Opioid dependence, a severe addictive disorder and major societal problem, has been demonstrated to be moderately heritable. We conducted a genome-wide association study in Comorbidity and Trauma Study data comparing opioid-dependent daily injectors (N=1167) with opioid misusers who never progressed to daily injection (N=161). The strongest associations, observed for CNIH3 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), were confirmed in two independent samples, the Yale-Penn genetic studies of opioid, cocaine and alcohol dependence and the Study of Addiction: Genetics and Environment, which both contain non-dependent opioid misusers and opioid-dependent individuals. Meta-analyses found five genome-wide significant CNIH3 SNPs. The A allele of rs10799590, the most highly associated SNP, was robustly protective (P=4.30E-9; odds ratio 0.64 (95% confidence interval 0.55-0.74)). Epigenetic annotation predicts that this SNP is functional in fetal brain. Neuroimaging data from the Duke Neurogenetics Study (N=312) provide evidence of this SNP's in vivo functionality; rs10799590 A allele carriers displayed significantly greater right amygdala habituation to threat-related facial expressions, a phenotype associated with resilience to psychopathology. Computational genetic analyses of physical dependence on morphine across 23 mouse strains yielded significant correlations for haplotypes in CNIH3 and functionally related genes. These convergent findings support CNIH3 involvement in the pathophysiology of opioid dependence, complementing prior studies implicating the α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) glutamate system.
Individual differences in coping styles are associated with psychological vulnerability to stress. Recent animal research suggests that coping styles reflect trade-offs between proactive and reactive threat responses during active avoidance paradigms, with proactive responses associated with better stress tolerance. Based on these preclinical findings, we developed a novel instructed active avoidance paradigm to characterize patterns of proactive and reactive responses using behavioral, motoric, and autonomic measures in humans. Analyses revealed significant inter-individual variability not only in the magnitude of general emotional responsiveness but also the likelihood to specifically express proactive or reactive responses. In men but not women, individual differences in general emotional responsiveness were linked to increased trait anxiety while proactive coping style was linked to increased trait aggression. These patterns are consistent with preclinical findings and suggest that instructed active avoidance paradigms may be useful in assessing psychological vulnerability to stress using objective behavioral measures.
Although goal pursuit is related to both functioning of the brain's reward circuits and psychological factors, the literatures surrounding these concepts have often been separate. Here we use the psychological construct of regulatory focus to investigate individual differences in neural response to reward. Regulatory focus theory proposes two motivational orientations for personal goal pursuit: (1) promotion, associated with sensitivity to potential gain, and (2) prevention, associated with sensitivity to potential loss. The monetary incentive delay (MID) task was used to manipulate reward circuit function, along with instructional framing corresponding to promotion and prevention in a within-subject design. We observed that the more promotion oriented an individual was, the lower their ventral striatum response to gain cues. Follow-up analyses revealed that greater promotion orientation was associated with decreased ventral striatum response even to no-value cues, suggesting that promotion orientation may be associated with relatively hypoactive reward system function. The findings are also likely to represent an interaction between the cognitive and motivational characteristics of the promotion system with the task demands. Prevention orientation did not correlate with ventral striatum response to gain cues, supporting the discriminant validity of regulatory focus theory. The results highlight a dynamic association between individual differences in self-regulation and reward system function.
Prior work suggests that there may be two distinct pathways of alcohol use disorder (AUD) risk: one associated with positive emotion enhancement and behavioral impulsivity, and another associated with negative emotion relief and coping. We sought to map these two pathways onto individual differences in neural reward and threat processing assessed using blood-oxygen-level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging in a sample of 759 undergraduate students (426 women, mean age 19.65±1.24 years) participating in the Duke Neurogenetics Study. We demonstrate that problem drinking is highest in the context of stress and in those with one of two distinct neural phenotypes: (1) a combination of relatively low reward-related activity of the ventral striatum (VS) and high threat-related reactivity of the amygdala; or (2) a combination of relatively high VS activity and low amygdala reactivity. In addition, we demonstrate that the relationship between stress and problem alcohol use is mediated by impulsivity, as reflected in monetary delay discounting rates, for those with high VS-low amygdala reactivity, and by anxious/depressive symptomatology for those with the opposite neural risk phenotype. Across both neural phenotypes, we found that greater divergence between VS and amygdala reactivity predicted greater risk for problem drinking. Finally, for those individuals with the low VS-high amygdala risk phenotype we found that stress not only predicted the presence of AUD diagnosis at the time of neuroimaging but also subsequent problem drinking reported 3 months following study completion. These results offer new insight into the neural basis of AUD risk and suggest novel biological targets for early individualized treatment or prevention.
Early life stress (ELS) is strongly associated with negative outcomes in adulthood, including reduced motivation and increased negative mood. The mechanisms mediating these relations, however, are poorly understood. We examined the relation between exposure to ELS and reward-related brain activity, which is known to predict motivation and mood, at age 26, in a sample followed since kindergarten with annual assessments. Using functional neuroimaging, we assayed individual differences in the activity of the ventral striatum (VS) during the processing of monetary rewards associated with a simple card-guessing task, in a sample of 72 male participants. We examined associations between a cumulative measure of ELS exposure and VS activity in adulthood. We found that greater levels of cumulative stress during childhood and adolescence predicted lower reward-related VS activity in adulthood. Extending this general developmental pattern, we found that exposure to stress early in development (between kindergarten and grade 3) was significantly associated with variability in adult VS activity. Our results provide an important demonstration that cumulative life stress, especially during this childhood period, is associated with blunted reward-related VS activity in adulthood. These differences suggest neurobiological pathways through which a history of ELS may contribute to reduced motivation and increased negative mood.