Imaging Examines Risky Decision Making on Brains of Methamphetamine Users

Main Point:

Methamphetamine users showed less sensitivity to risk and reward in one region of the brain and greater sensitivity in other brain regions compared with non-users when performing an exercise involving risky decision making.

Published in:

JAMA Psychiatry


Milky Kohno, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues


Deficiencies in decision making are linked to addiction. Chronic methamphetamine use is associated with abnormalities in the neural circuits of the brain involved in risky decision making. Faulty decision making is targeted in addiction therapy so understanding its causes could help in the development of more effective treatments.

How the Study Was Conducted:

The authors used functional magnetic resonance imaging in a study of 25 methamphetamine users and 27 non-users  (controls). The patients were examined at rest and when performing the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART), which involves the choice to pump up a balloon to increase earnings or cash out to avoid uncertain risk.


Methamphetamine users earned less than the healthy patients on the BART and they showed less sensitivity to risk and reward in the brain region known as the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC), greater sensitivity in the ventral striatum and greater mesocorticolimbic resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC). The healthy patients had a greater association between the RSFC of the rDLPFC and sensitivity of the rDLPFC to risk during risky decision making. The authors indicate that may suggest that a deficit in rDLPFC connectivity contributes to dysfunction in methamphetamine users.


“These findings suggest that circuit-level abnormalities affect brain function during risky decision making in stimulant users.”


Milky Kohno PhD, Angelica M. Morales PhD, Dara G. Ghahremani PhD, Gerhard Hellemann PhD, Edythe D. London PhD. Risky Decision Making, Prefrontal Cortex, and Mesocorticolimbic Functional Connectivity in Methamphetamine Dependence. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014; 71(7):-. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.399

Editor’s Note:

Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

Media Advisory:

To contact corresponding author Edythe D. London, Ph.D., call Mark Wheeler at 310-794-2265 or email

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