Brain Star Award winner Jacob Stubbs

Jacob Stubbs

Dr. Jacob Stubbs, University of British Columbia

Scientific publication

Stubbs JL, Taylor JJ, Siddiqi SH, Schaper FLWVJ, Cohen A, Drew W, Hanlon CA, Abdolahi A, Wang HZ, Honer WG, Panenka WJ, Fox MD. (2023). Heterogeneous neuroimaging findings across substance use disorders localize to a common brain network. Nature Mental Health, 1(10), 772-781.

Identification of a brain network for substance use disorder.

Substance use disorders are associated with brain abnormalities that can be identified using non-invasive brain imaging. However, decades worth of brain imaging studies have produced conflicting and heterogeneous findings about what brain regions are implicated in substance use disorders. In their recent study published in Nature Mental Health, Dr. Jacob Stubbs and colleagues investigated whether these heterogenous neuroimaging findings are part of a common brain network.

The team used a recently developed approach called “network mapping” to evaluate whether seemingly unrelated brain abnormalities in substance use disorder are part of a common brain network. Focusing on data from 144 previous studies and nearly 10,000 participants, they used a connectome as an “average wiring diagram,” to find links between these previously conflicting findings.

The team showed that more than 90% of previous study findings are linked to a common brain network. They found that this network was consistent across different types of neuroimaging modalities and across different substances of use. They also integrated sources of causal data derived from brain lesions, finding that lesions that disrupt substance use disorders preferentially intersect this novel brain network.

Overall, the study has both scientific and clinical implications. First, this work provides a common link between decades worth of heterogeneous and conflicting findings from previous studies on neuroimaging in substance use disorder. The work is complementary to previous findings and shifts our understanding of brain abnormalities in substance use disorder from a focus on single brain regions to a unified brain network. Second, this work provides a consistent and specific brain network that can be targeted therapeutically. The peaks of the network align with several cortical targets that can be targeted with non-invasive brain stimulation techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation. The study is being used to inform therapeutic targets for substance use disorders in upcoming exploratory and clinical trials on the treatment of substance use disorder.

Stubbs and colleagues published this study in Nature Mental Health in 2023. It was featured in press releases by the National Institutes of Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, as well as in media outlets including Popular Science and the American Academy of Neurology Podcast.

About Jacob Stubbs

Dr. Stubbs completed this work while he was a PhD Candidate at the University of British Columbia and collaborating as a Visiting Scholar at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, USA. He led all aspects of the study, in collaboration with investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Rochester Medical Center, Philips Healthcare, and the University of British Columbia. Dr. Stubbs is now a medical student at the University of British Columbia.

Sources of funding

Jacob L. Stubbs was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Vanier Scholarship and a University of British Columbia Friedman Award for Scholars in Health