Biomarkers in Neuroimaging

Neuroimaging has helped to elucidate that substance-use disorders are associated with changes in brain structure, function, and neurochemistry. Neuroimaging studies have improved our understanding of the neural correlates of addiction and how these relate to addictive behavior. Nevertheless, the potential impact of neuroimaging on treatment development for addictions has yet to be fully realized. Despite substantial advances, treatments are often not fully effective, and addiction continues to be a major public health burden . Neuroimaging has contributed to our appreciation of the complexity of addiction, highlighting the need for measurable indices, or biomarkers, of addiction to improve treatment outcomes. A “biomarker” typically refers to a measurable indicator of normal or abnormal biological processes or response to treatment . In substance-abuse research, biomarkers are needed to clarify how or why a treatment has an effect, on whom and under what circumstances.

Recent advances in neuroimaging are affording greater opportunities to identify brain biomarkers that might be used to improve outcomes of treatment for substance-use disorders. Neuroimaging is a critical tool in biomarker development because it relates neural circuits to both molecular mechanisms and behavior or clinical variation. In particular, neuroimaging studies are central to an emerging research effort to identify cross-diagnostic processes in substance-use and related disorders based on both behavior and neural circuits . In this work, alterations in brain activation patterns related to dimensions of functioning in individuals with addictions may be considered to represent abnormal processing associated with addictive behavior. Such research holds significant potential for identifying targets for treatment, detecting subgroups for treatment selection, and/or predicting treatment response . As disorder heterogeneity and individual variation pose significant challenges for delivering effective treatment, considering addictions in terms of dimensions of functioning may help to elucidate factors relevant to treatment response and lead to more specific, more effective treatments . This paper reviews neuroimaging research seeking to identify potential biomarkers of treatment response from several dimensions of functioning relevant to addiction:, impulsivity, and cognitive control.


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