Nalmefene Reduces Reward Anticipation in Alcohol Dependence: An Experimental Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

Darren R. Quelch, Inge Mick, John McGonigle, Anna C. Ramos, Remy S.A. Flechais, Mark Bolstridge, Eugenii Rabiner, Matthew B. Wall, Rexford D. Newbould, Björn Steiniger-Brach, Franz van den Berg, Malcolm Boyce, Dorrit Østergaard Nilausen, Lasse Breuning Sluth, Didier Meulien, Christoph von der Goltz, David Nutt, Anne Lingford-Hughes

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29 Citations (Scopus)


Background Nalmefene is a µ- and δ-opioid receptor antagonist, κ-opioid receptor partial agonist that has recently been approved in Europe for treating alcohol dependence. It offers a treatment approach for alcohol-dependent individuals with “high-risk drinking levels” to reduce their alcohol consumption. However, the neurobiological mechanism underpinning its effects on alcohol consumption remains to be determined. Using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject crossover design we aimed to determine the effect of a single dose of nalmefene on striatal blood oxygen level–dependent (BOLD) signal change during anticipation of monetary reward using the monetary incentive delay task following alcohol challenge. Methods Twenty-two currently heavy-drinking, non–treatment-seeking alcohol-dependent males were recruited. The effect of single dose nalmefene (18 mg) on changes in a priori defined striatal region of interest BOLD signal change during reward anticipation compared with placebo was investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Both conditions were performed under intravenous alcohol administration (6% vol/vol infusion to achieve a target level of 80 mg/dL). Results Datasets from 18 participants were available and showed that in the presence of the alcohol infusion, nalmefene significantly reduced the BOLD response in the striatal region of interest compared with placebo. Nalmefene did not alter brain perfusion. Conclusions Nalmefene blunts BOLD response in the mesolimbic system during anticipation of monetary reward and an alcohol infusion. This is consistent with nalmefene’s actions on opioid receptors, which modulate the mesolimbic dopaminergic system, and provides a neurobiological basis for its efficacy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Addiction
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Functional imaging
  • Nalmefene
  • opioid
  • Reward anticipation


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