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Enhanced neural response to anticipation, effort and consummation of reward and aversion during bupropion treatment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 May 2016

Z. Dean
School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK
S. Horndasch
School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK
P. Giannopoulos
School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK
C. McCabe
School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK
E-mail address:



We have previously shown that the selective serotonergic reuptake inhibitor, citalopram, reduces the neural response to reward and aversion in healthy volunteers. We suggest that this inhibitory effect might underlie the emotional blunting reported by patients on these medications. Bupropion is a dopaminergic and noradrenergic reuptake inhibitor and has been suggested to have more therapeutic effects on reward-related deficits. However, how bupropion affects the neural responses to reward and aversion is unclear.


Seventeen healthy volunteers (9 female, 8 male) received 7 days bupropion (150 mg/day) and 7 days placebo treatment, in a double-blind crossover design. Our functional magnetic resonance imaging task consisted of three phases; an anticipatory phase (pleasant or unpleasant cue), an effort phase (button presses to achieve a pleasant taste or to avoid an unpleasant taste) and a consummatory phase (pleasant or unpleasant tastes). Volunteers also rated wanting, pleasantness and intensity of the tastes.


Relative to placebo, bupropion increased activity during the anticipation phase in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and caudate. During the effort phase, bupropion increased activity in the vmPFC, striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and primary motor cortex. Bupropion also increased medial orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala and ventral striatum activity during the consummatory phase.


Our results are the first to show that bupropion can increase neural responses during the anticipation, effort and consummation of rewarding and aversive stimuli. This supports the notion that bupropion might be beneficial for depressed patients with reward-related deficits and blunted affect.

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