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      Clonidine Improved Laboratory-Measured Decision-Making Performance in Abstinent Heroin Addicts

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          Impulsivity refers to a wide spectrum of actions characterized by quick and nonplanned reactions to external and internal stimuli, without taking into account the possible negative consequences for the individual or others, and decision-making is one of the biologically dissociated impulsive behaviors. Changes in impulsivity may be associated with norepinephrine. Various populations of drug addicts all performed impulsive decision making, which is a key risk factor in drug dependence and relapse. The present study investigated the effects of clonidine, which decreased norepinephrine release through presynaptic alpha-2 receptor activation, on the impaired decision-making performance in abstinent heroin addicts.

          Methodology/Principal Findings

          Decision-making performance was assessed using the original version of Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). Both heroin addicts and normal controls were randomly assigned to three groups receiving clonidine, 0, 75 µg or 150 µg orally under double blind conditions. Psychiatric symptoms, including anxiety, depression and impulsivity, were rated on standardized scales. Heroin addicts reported higher scores on the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale and exhibited impaired decision-making on the IGT. A single high-dose of clonidine improved the decision-making performance in heroin addicts.


          Our results suggest clonidine may have a potential therapeutic role in heroin addicts by improving the impaired impulsive decision-making. The current findings have important implications for behavioral and pharmacological interventions targeting decision-making in heroin addiction.

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          Most cited references 46

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          Emotion, decision making and the orbitofrontal cortex.

          The somatic marker hypothesis provides a systems-level neuroanatomical and cognitive framework for decision making and the influence on it by emotion. The key idea of this hypothesis is that decision making is a process that is influenced by marker signals that arise in bioregulatory processes, including those that express themselves in emotions and feelings. This influence can occur at multiple levels of operation, some of which occur consciously and some of which occur non-consciously. Here we review studies that confirm various predictions from the hypothesis. The orbitofrontal cortex represents one critical structure in a neural system subserving decision making. Decision making is not mediated by the orbitofrontal cortex alone, but arises from large-scale systems that include other cortical and subcortical components. Such structures include the amygdala, the somatosensory/insular cortices and the peripheral nervous system. Here we focus only on the role of the orbitofrontal cortex in decision making and emotional processing, and the relationship between emotion, decision making and other cognitive functions of the frontal lobe, namely working memory.
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            Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex.

            Following damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, humans develop a defect in real-life decision-making, which contrasts with otherwise normal intellectual functions. Currently, there is no neuropsychological probe to detect in the laboratory, and the cognitive and neural mechanisms responsible for this defect have resisted explanation. Here, using a novel task which simulates real-life decision-making in the way it factors uncertainty of premises and outcomes, as well as reward and punishment, we find that prefrontal patients, unlike controls, are oblivious to the future consequences of their actions, and seem to be guided by immediate prospects only. This finding offers, for the first time, the possibility of detecting these patients' elusive impairment in the laboratory, measuring it, and investigating its possible causes.
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              Varieties of impulsivity.

               J Evenden (1999)
              The concept of impulsivity covers a wide range of "actions that are poorly conceived, prematurely expressed, unduly risky, or inappropriate to the situation and that often result in undesirable outcomes". As such it plays an important role in normal behaviour, as well as, in a pathological form, in many kinds of mental illness such as mania, personality disorders, substance abuse disorders and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Although evidence from psychological studies of human personality suggests that impulsivity may be made up of several independent factors, this has not made a major impact on biological studies of impulsivity. This may be because there is little unanimity as to which these factors are. The present review summarises evidence for varieties of impulsivity from several different areas of research: human psychology, psychiatry and animal behaviour. Recently, a series of psychopharmacological studies has been carried out by the present author and colleagues using methods proposed to measure selectively different aspects of impulsivity. The results of these studies suggest that several neurochemical mechanisms can influence impulsivity, and that impulsive behaviour has no unique neurobiological basis. Consideration of impulsivity as the result of several different, independent factors which interact to modulate behaviour may provide better insight into the pathology than current hypotheses based on serotonergic underactivity.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                23 January 2012
                : 7
                : 1
                National Institute on Drug Dependence, Peking University, Beijing, China
                Baylor College of Medicine, United States of America
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: X-LZ JS LL. Performed the experiments: X-LZ G-BW L-YZ L-LS JW PW. Analyzed the data: X-LZ. Wrote the paper: X-LZ G-BW JS LL.

                Zhang et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 6
                Research Article
                Cognitive Neuroscience
                Drugs and Devices
                Behavioral Pharmacology
                Mental Health



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