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Neurofeedback training versus treatment-as-usual for alcohol dependence: results of an early-phase randomized controlled trial and neuroimaging correlates

Subramanian, Leena, Skottnik, Leon, Cox, W. Miles, Lührs, Michael, McNamara, Rachel ORCID:, Hood, Kerry ORCID:, Watson, Gareth, Whittaker, Joseph R., Williams, Angharad N., Sakhuja, Raman, Ihssen, Niklas, Goebel, Rainer, Playle, Rebecca ORCID: and Linden, David E. J. ORCID: 2021. Neurofeedback training versus treatment-as-usual for alcohol dependence: results of an early-phase randomized controlled trial and neuroimaging correlates. European Addiction Research 27 (5) , pp. 381-394. 10.1159/000513448

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Introduction: Alcohol dependence is one of the most common substance use disorders, and novel treatment options are urgently needed. Neurofeedback training (NFT) based on real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rtf­MRI) has emerged as an attractive candidate for add-on treatments in psychiatry, but its use in alcohol dependence has not been formally investigated in a clinical trial. We investigated the use of rtfMRI-based NFT to prevent relapse in alcohol dependence. Methods: Fifty-two alcohol-dependent patients from the UK who had completed a detoxification program were randomly assigned to a treatment group (receiving rtfMRI NFT in addition to standard care) or the control group (receiving standard care only). At baseline, alcohol consumption was assessed as the primary outcome measure and a variety of psychological, behavioral, and neural parameters as secondary outcome measures to determine feasibility and secondary training effects. Participants in the treatment group underwent 6 NFT sessions over 4 months and were trained to downregulate their brain activation in the salience network in the presence of alcohol stimuli and to upregulate frontal activation in response to pictures related to positive goals. Four, 8, and 12 months after baseline assessment, both groups were followed up with a battery of clinical and psychometric tests. Results: Primary outcome measures showed very low relapse rates for both groups. Analysis of neural secondary outcome measures indicated that the majority of patients modulated the salience system in the desired directions, by decreasing activity in response to alcohol stimuli and increasing activation in response to positive goals. The intervention had a good safety and acceptability profile. Conclusion: We demonstrated that rtfMRI-neurofeedback targeting hyperactivity of the salience network in response to alcohol cues is feasible in currently abstinent patients with alcohol dependence.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Centre for Trials Research (CNTRR)
Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC)
Additional Information: Leena Subramanian and Leon Skottnik contributed equally. This is an Open Access article licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-4.0 International License (CC BY-NC) (
Publisher: Karger
ISSN: 1022-6877
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2021
Date of Acceptance: 20 October 2020
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2023 16:18

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