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BACKGROUND: Reward processing deficits are a core feature of schizophrenia and are thought to underlie negative symptoms. Pre-clinical evidence suggests that opioid neurotransmission is linked to reward processing. However, the contribution of Mu Opioid Receptor (MOR) signalling to the reward processing abnormalities in schizophrenia is unknown. Here, we examined the association between MOR availability and the neural processes underlying reward anticipation in patients with schizophrenia using multimodal neuroimaging. METHOD: 37 subjects (18 with Schizophrenia with moderate severity negative symptoms and 19 age and sex-matched healthy controls) underwent a functional MRI scan while performing the Monetary Incentive Delay (MID) task to measure the neural response to reward anticipation. Participants also had a [11C]-carfentanil PET scan to measure MOR availability. RESULTS: Reward anticipation was associated with increased neural activation in a widespread network of brain regions including the striatum. Patients with schizophrenia had both significantly lower MOR availability in the striatum as well as striatal hypoactivation during reward anticipation. However, there was no association between MOR availability and striatal neural activity during reward anticipation in either patient or controls (Pearson's Correlation, controls df = 17, r = 0.321, p = 0.18, patients df = 16, r = 0.295, p = 0.24). There was no association between anticipation-related neural activation and negative symptoms (r = -0.120, p = 0.14) or anhedonia severity (social r = -0.365, p = 0.14 physical r = -0.120, p = 0.63). CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest reduced MOR availability in schizophrenia might not underlie striatal hypoactivation during reward anticipation in patients with established illness. Therefore, other mechanisms, such as dopamine dysfunction, warrant further investigation as treatment targets for this aspect of the disorder.

Original publication




Journal article


Neuroimage Clin

Publication Date





Functional MRI, Mu opioid receptor, PET, Reward, Humans, Anticipation, Psychological, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Motivation, Positron-Emission Tomography, Receptors, Opioid, mu, Reward, Schizophrenia