The effect of nucleus accumbens lesions on appetite, sexual function, and nicotine dependence in recovering heroin addicts

Yarong Wang 1 , Jia Zhu 1 , Ling Chen 2 , Yijun Liu 3 , Qiang Li 1 , Weichuan Yang 1 , Wei Li 1 , Liyan Zhao 4 , Mark Gold 3 , Jifeng Sun 5  and Wei Wang 1
  • 1 Department of Radiology, Tangdu Hospital, the Fourth Military Medical University, 569 Xinsi Road, Baqiao District, Xi’an, 710038, China
  • 2 Department of Oncology, the First Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University, 766 West Yantan Road, Xi’an, 710061, China
  • 3 Department of Psychiatry, University of Florida College of Medicine, 100 Newell Dr L4-100, Gainesville, Florida, 32610, USA
  • 4 National Institute on Drug Dependence, Peking University, 38 Xueyuan Road, Beijing, 100083, China
  • 5 Department of Nephrology, Tangdu Hospital, the Fourth Military Medical University, 569 Xinsi Road, Baqiao District, Xi’an, 710038, China


The nucleus accumbens (NAc) is a key part of the neural circuitry that creates reward, pleasure and motivation that facilitates human feeding, sexual and smoking behaviors. In the brain reward system, the NAc is a crucial component responsible for natural and drug-induced reinforcement behaviors. Yet it is unclear whether NAc is indispensible for all reward behaviors in human beings. The present study aimed to investigate the long-term effects of NAc ablation on sexual function, appetite, and nicotine dependence level in chronic heroin users. Eighteen former heroin-dependent patients (male) with bilateral NAc ablation via stereotactic radiofrequency surgery for alleviating drug psychological dependence were recruited. Their postoperative time ranged from 12 to 103 months. All subjects received MRI scans for assessing the accuracy of the lesion site. Evaluation of appetite, sexual function, and nicotine dependence were measured using the Simplified Nutrition Appetite Questionnaire, the Brief Sexual Function Inventory, and the Fagerström Test for Nicotine Dependence, respectively. After precluding the potential confounding variables, such as drug use (dosage and duration), post-operation duration, age, body-weight, marital status and education level, ANOVA with repeated measures revealed that the NAc ablation improved the patients’ appetite, sexual drive and sexual satisfaction. Yet there was no change in male erectile function, ejaculatory function, or nicotine dependence levels compared to the preoperative. These may suggest that although NAc is a key part of the neural circuitry, the NAc surgical lesions left the fundamental aspects of natural and drug-induced reinforcement and motivation almost intact.

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