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Journal Article

Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer and alcohol consumption in young male social drinkers: Behavioral, neural and polygenic correlates


Schlagenhauf,  Florian
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Germany;
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Garbusow, M., Nebe, S., Sommer, C., Kuitunen-Paul, S., Sebold, M., Schad, D. J., et al. (2019). Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer and alcohol consumption in young male social drinkers: Behavioral, neural and polygenic correlates. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(8): 1188. doi:10.3390/jcm8081188.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-DB47-6
In animals and humans, behavior can be influenced by irrelevant stimuli, a phenomenon called Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT). In subjects with substance use disorder, PIT is even enhanced with functional activation in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and amygdala. While we observed enhanced behavioral and neural PIT effects in alcohol-dependent subjects, we here aimed to determine whether behavioral PIT is enhanced in young men with high-risk compared to low-risk drinking and subsequently related functional activation in an a-priori region of interest encompassing the NAcc and amygdala and related to polygenic risk for alcohol consumption. A representative sample of 18-year old men (n = 1937) was contacted: 445 were screened, 209 assessed: resulting in 191 valid behavioral, 139 imaging and 157 genetic datasets. None of the subjects fulfilled criteria for alcohol dependence according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV-TextRevision (DSM-IV-TR). We measured how instrumental responding for rewards was influenced by background Pavlovian conditioned stimuli predicting action-independent rewards and losses. Behavioral PIT was enhanced in high-compared to low-risk drinkers (b = 0.09, SE = 0.03, z = 2.7, p < 0.009). Across all subjects, we observed PIT-related neural blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal in the right amygdala (t = 3.25, pSVC = 0.04, x = 26, y = −6, z = −12), but not in NAcc. The strength of the behavioral PIT effect was positively correlated with polygenic risk for alcohol consumption (rs = 0.17, p = 0.032). We conclude that behavioral PIT and polygenic risk for alcohol consumption might be a biomarker for a subclinical phenotype of risky alcohol consumption, even if no drug-related stimulus is present. The association between behavioral PIT effects and the amygdala might point to habitual processes related to out PIT task. In non-dependent young social drinkers, the amygdala rather than the NAcc is activated during PIT; possible different involvement in association with disease trajectory should be investigated in future studies.