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Reward processing is linked to specific neuromodulatory systems with a dopaminergic contribution to reward learning and motivational drive being well established. Neuromodulatory influences on hedonic responses to actual receipt of reward, or punishment, referred to as experienced utility are less well characterized, although a link to the endogenous opioid system is suggested. Here, in a combined functional magnetic resonance imaging-psychopharmacological investigation, we used naloxone to block central opioid function while subjects performed a gambling task associated with rewards and losses of different magnitudes, in which the mean expected value was always zero. A graded influence of naloxone on reward outcome was evident in an attenuation of pleasure ratings for larger reward outcomes, an effect mirrored in attenuation of brain activity to increasing reward magnitude in rostral anterior cingulate cortex. A more striking effect was seen for losses such that under naloxone all levels of negative outcome were rated as more unpleasant. This hedonic effect was associated with enhanced activity in anterior insula and caudal anterior cingulate cortex, areas implicated in aversive processing. Our data indicate that a central opioid system contributes to both reward and loss processing in humans and directly modulates the hedonic experience of outcomes.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





10509 - 10516


Adult, Emotions, Gambling, Gyrus Cinguli, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Motivation, Narcotic Antagonists, Nerve Net, Psychomotor Performance, Receptors, Opioid, Reward