Visual cortex activation to drug cues: A meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging papers in addiction and substance abuse literature

Colleen A. Hanlon, Logan T. Dowdle, Thomas Naselaris, Melanie Canterberry, Bernadette M. Cortese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Background: Although the visual cortex does not typically receive much attention in addiction literature, neuroimaging studies often report significant activity in visual areas when drug users are exposed to drug cues. The purpose of this meta-analysis was to investigate the frequency with which occipital cortex activity is observed during drug cue exposure and to determine its spatial distribution. Methods: A comprehensive literature search was performed of human functional neuroimaging studies of drug cue-reactivity. Fifty-five studies were used to determine the frequency with which clusters of significant visual cortex activity during visual drug cues versus non-drug cues were reported. The spatial distribution of visual cortex activations was determined via activation likelihood estimation (ALE; FDR corrected, p< 0.01) in a subset of these studies (n= 24). Results: Eighty-six percent of studies that reported fMRI results for drug versus neutral visual cues within a substance-dependent group showed significant drug-elicited activity in the visual cortex. ALE revealed clusters in the left secondary visual cortex (BA 19) and clusters in the primary visual cortex (BA 17) that were consistently activated by drug cues. Conclusions: These data demonstrate that the visual cortex, often overlooked in our discussions of the neural circuitry of addiction, consistently discriminates drug cues from neutral cues in substance dependent populations. While it remains unclear whether drug cue-elicited activation in occipital cortex is related to the rewarding properties of the drug and/or attentional mechanisms, these data support further exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)206-212
Number of pages7
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this study was provided by NIDA Grant no. K01 DA027756 (CH) and NIMH Grant no. K01 MH090548 (BC); the NIDA and NIMH had no further role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Funding Information:
This study was funded by NIH , Grant nos. K01 DA027756 ; K01 MH090548 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.


  • Addiction
  • Cue-induced craving
  • FMRI
  • Visual cortex


Dive into the research topics of 'Visual cortex activation to drug cues: A meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging papers in addiction and substance abuse literature'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this