Craving for substance use or eating is thought to be a driver of substance abuse or over-eating.
Cravings triggered by drug- or food-related stimuli may be used to help predict substance use or relapse, unhealthy eating, and weight gain.
However, the neural basis of craving in humans is incompletely understood.
A recent paper published in Nature Neuroscience reports a neuroimaging feature that can be used to predict the intensity of drug and food cravings.
The team identified a neural marker that predicted the intensity of drug and food cravings between nicotine, alcohol and cocaine users and matched controls.
In three functional magnetic resonance imaging studies, 99 participants viewed pictures of drugs and very tasty foods (such as a stack of Western-style pancakes) and were prompted to consider the immediate positive consequences of consuming the things pictured, or to consider the negative consequences of repeated consumption.
They also rated how much they craved these items.
The authors then applied machine learning methods to the neuroimaging data to identify neurobiological craving features (NCS).
The results showed that the NCS was highly accurate for predicting craving for both drugs and food.
The researchers also found that NCS responses to food images predicted the intensity of drug craving and vice versa, perhaps suggesting that food and drug craving share neural pathways.
The authors conclude that identifying the NCS provides a potential target for developing clinical interventions to treat cravings, as well as improving existing therapies.