Negative Urgency and Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Responses to Alcohol Cues: FMRI Evidence of Emotion-Based Impulsivity

Melissa A. Cyders, Mario Dzemidzic, William J. Eiler, Ayca Coskunpinar, Kenny Karyadi, David A. Kareken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Scopus citations


Background: Recent research has highlighted the role of emotion-based impulsivity (negative and positive urgency personality traits) for alcohol use and abuse, but has yet to examine how these personality traits interact with the brain's motivational systems. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we tested whether urgency traits and mood induction affected medial prefrontal responses to alcohol odors (AcO). Methods: Twenty-seven social drinkers (mean age = 25.2, 14 males) had 6 fMRI scans while viewing negative, neutral, or positive mood images (3 mood conditions) during intermittent exposure to AcO and appetitive control (AppCo) aromas. Results: Voxel-wise analyses (p < 0.001) confirmed [AcO > AppCo] activation throughout medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and ventromedial PFC (vmPFC) regions. Extracted from a priori mPFC and vmPFC regions and analyzed in Odor (AcO, AppCo) × Mood factorial models, AcO activation was greater than AppCo in left vmPFC (p < 0.001), left mPFC (p = 0.002), and right vmPFC (p = 0.01) regions. Mood did not interact significantly with activation, but the covariate of trait negative urgency accounted for significant variance in left vmPFC (p = 0.01) and right vmPFC (p = 0.01) [AcO > AppCo] activation. Negative urgency also mediated the relationship between vmPFC activation and both (i) subjective craving and (ii) problematic drinking. Conclusions: The trait of negative urgency is associated with neural responses to alcohol cues in the vmPFC, a region involved in reward value and emotion-guided decision-making. This suggests that negative urgency might alter subjective craving and brain regions involved in coding reward value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-417
Number of pages9
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2014


  • Alcohol
  • Emotion
  • fMRI Imaging
  • Impulsivity
  • Olfaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Toxicology

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