Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate Increases Resting-State Limbic Perfusion and Body and Emotion Awareness in Humans

Oliver G Bosch, Fabrizio Esposito, Michael M Havranek, Dario Dornbierer, Robin von Rotz, Philipp Staempfli, Boris B Quednow, Erich Seifritz
Neuropsychopharmacology: Official Publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology 2017, 42 (11): 2141-2151
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a GHB-/GABA-B receptor agonist inducing a broad spectrum of subjective effects including euphoria, disinhibition, and enhanced vitality. It is used as treatment for neuropsychiatric disorders including narcolepsy and alcohol withdrawal, but is also a drug of abuse. Non-medical users report enhancement of body and emotion awareness during intoxication. However, the neuronal underpinnings of such awareness alterations under GHB are unknown so far. The assessment of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) by pharmacological magnetic resonance imaging (phMRI) enables the elucidation of drug-induced functional brain alterations. Thus, we assessed the effects of GHB (35 mg/kg p.o.) in 17 healthy males on rCBF and subjective drug effects, using a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized, cross-over design employing arterial spin labeling phMRI. Compared to placebo, GHB increased subjective ratings for body and emotion awareness, and for dizziness (p<0.01-0.001, Bonferroni-corrected). A whole-brain analysis showed increased rCBF in the bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the right anterior insula under GHB (p<0.05, cluster-corrected). ACC and insula rCBF are correlated with relaxation, and body and emotion awareness (p<0.05-0.001, uncorrected). Interaction analyses revealed that GHB-induced increase of body awareness was accompanied by increased rCBF in ACC, whereas relaxation under GHB was accompanied by elevated rCBF in right anterior insula (p<0.05, uncorrected). In conclusion, enhancement of emotion and body awareness, and increased perfusion of insula and ACC bears implications both for the properties of GHB as a drug of abuse as well as for its putative personalized potential for specific therapeutic indications in affective disorders.

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