Evidence of anhedonia and differential reward processing in prefrontal cortex among post-withdrawal patients with prescription opiate dependence

A. S. Huhn, R. E. Meyer, J. D. Harris, H. Ayaz, E. Deneke, D. M. Stankoski, S. C. Bunce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Anhedonia is an important but understudied element of a neuroadaptive model underlying vulnerability to relapse in opioid dependence. Previous research using fMRI has shown reduced activation to pleasant stimuli in rostral prefrontal cortex among heroin-dependent patients in early recovery. This study evaluated the presence of anhedonia among recently withdrawn prescription opiate dependent patients (PODP) in residential treatment compared to control subjects. Anhedonia was assessed using self-report, affect-modulated startle response (AMSR), and a cue reactivity task during which participant's rostral prefrontal cortex (RPFC) and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) was monitored with functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). The cue reactivity task included three distinct categories of natural reward stimuli: highly palatable food, positive social situations, and intimate (non-erotic) interactions. PODP reported greater anhedonia on self-report (Snaith–Hamilton Pleasure Scale), and showed reduced hedonic response to positive stimuli in the AMSR task relative to controls. PODP also exhibited reduced neural activation in bilateral RPFC and left VLPFC in response to food images and reduced left VLPFC in response to images depicting positive social situations relative to controls. No differences were found for emotionally intimate stimuli. When patients were divided into groups based on the Snaith–Hamilton criteria for the presence or absence of anhedonia, patients endorsing anhedonia showed reduced neural responses to images depicting positive social stimuli and food relative to patients who did not endorse anhedonia. Activations were in areas of RPFC that support the retrieval of episodic memories. The results suggest the presence of anhedonia in a subsample of PODP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-109
Number of pages8
JournalBrain Research Bulletin
StatePublished - May 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Affect modulated startle response
  • Anhedonia
  • Cue reactivity
  • Functional near-infrared spectroscopy
  • Lack of pleasure
  • Prescription opioids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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