Dopamine, urges to smoke, and the relative salience of drug versus non-drug reward

Tom P Freeman, Ravi K Das, Sunjeev K Kamboj, H Valerie Curran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (SciVal)


When addicted individuals are exposed to drug-related stimuli, dopamine release is thought to mediate incentive salience attribution, increasing attentional bias, craving and drug seeking. It is unclear whether dopamine acts specifically on drug cues versus other rewards, and if these effects correspond with craving and other forms of cognitive bias. Here, we administered the dopamine D2/D3 agonist pramipexole (0.5 mg) to 16 tobacco smokers in a double-blind placebo-controlled crossover design. Visual fixations on smoking and money images were recorded alongside smoking urges and fluency tasks. Pramipexole attenuated a marked bias in initial orienting towards smoking relative to money but did not alter a maintained attentional bias towards smoking. Pramipexole decreased urges to smoke retrospectively after the task but not on a state scale. Fewer smoking words were generated after pramipexole but phonological and semantic fluency were preserved. Although these treatment effects did not correlate with each other, changes in initial orienting towards smoking and money were inversely related to baseline scores. In conclusion, pramipexole can reduce the salience of an addictive drug compared with other rewards and elicit corresponding changes in smoking urges and cognitive bias. These reward-specific and baseline-dependent effects support an 'inverted-U' shaped profile of dopamine in addiction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-92
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number1
Early online date12 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect/drug effects
  • Attention/drug effects
  • Benzothiazoles/pharmacology
  • Craving/drug effects
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Cues
  • Dopamine/physiology
  • Dopamine Agonists/pharmacology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation/drug effects
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reward
  • Smoking/psychology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder/psychology
  • Young Adult


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