A mesocorticolimbic signature of pleasure in the human brain

Philip A. Kragel, Michael T. Treadway, Roee Admon, Diego A. Pizzagalli, Emma C. Hahn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pleasure is a fundamental driver of human behaviour, yet its neural basis remains largely unknown. Rodent studies highlight opioidergic neural circuits connecting the nucleus accumbens, ventral pallidum, insula and orbitofrontal cortex as critical for the initiation and regulation of pleasure, and human neuroimaging studies exhibit some translational parity. However, whether activation in these regions conveys a generalizable representation of pleasure regulated by opioidergic mechanisms remains unclear. Here we use pattern recognition techniques to develop a human functional magnetic resonance imaging signature of mesocorticolimbic activity unique to states of pleasure. In independent validation tests, this signature is sensitive to pleasant tastes and affect evoked by humour. The signature is spatially co-extensive with mu-opioid receptor gene expression, and its response is attenuated by the opioid antagonist naloxone. These findings provide evidence for a basis of pleasure in humans that is distributed across brain systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1332-1343
Number of pages12
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'A mesocorticolimbic signature of pleasure in the human brain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this