Cannabis and cocaine decrease cognitive impulse control and functional corticostriatal connectivity in drug users with low activity DBH genotypes

J.G. Ramaekers*, J.H. van Wel, D. Spronk, B. Franke, G. Kenis, S.W. Toennes, K.P.C. Kuypers, E.L. Theunissen, P. Stiers, R.J. Verkes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DbetaH) enzyme transforms dopamine into noradrenaline. We hypothesized that individuals with low activity DBH genotypes (rs1611115 CT/TT) are more sensitive to the influence of cannabis and cocaine on cognitive impulse control and functional connectivity in the limbic 'reward' circuit because they experience a drug induced hyperdopaminergic state compared to individuals with high activity DBH genotypes (rs1611115 CC). Regular drug users (N = 122) received acute doses of cannabis (450 mug/kg THC), cocaine HCl 300 mg and placebo. Cognitive impulse control was assessed by means of the Matching Familiar Figures Test (MFFT). Resting state fMRI was measured in a subset of participants to determine functional connectivity between the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and (sub)cortical areas. The influence of cannabis and cocaine on impulsivity and functional connectivity significantly interacted with DBH genotype. Both drugs increased cognitive impulsivity in participants with CT/TT genotypes but not in CC participants. Both drugs also reduced functional connectivity between the NAc and the limbic lobe, prefrontal cortex, striatum and thalamus and primarily in individuals with CT/TT genotypes. Correlational analysis indicated a significant negative association between cognitive impulsivity and functional connectivity in subcortical areas of the brain. It is concluded that interference of cannabis and cocaine with cognitive impulse control and functional corticostriatal connectivity depends on DBH genotype. The present data provide a neural substrate and behavioral mechanism by which drug users can progress to drug seeking and may also offer a rationale for targeted pharmacotherapy in chronic drug users with high risk DBH genotypes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1254–1263
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Early online date14 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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