Real-time fMRI (rtfMRI) neurofeedback (NF) facilitates volitional control over brain activity and the modulation of associated mental functions. The NF signals of traditional rtfMRI-NF studies predominantly reflect neuronal activity within ROIs. In this study, we describe a novel rtfMRI-NF approach that includes a functional connectivity (FC) component in the NF signal (FC-added rtfMRI-NF). We estimated the efficacy of the FC-added rtfMRI-NF method by applying it to nicotine-dependent heavy smokers in an effort to reduce cigarette craving. ACC and medial pFC as well as the posterior cingulate cortex and precuneus are associated with cigarette craving and were chosen as ROIs. Fourteen heavy smokers were randomly assigned to receive one of two types of NF: traditional activity-based rtfMRI-NF or FC-added rtfMRI-NF. Participants received rtfMRI-NF training during two separate visits after overnight smoking cessation, and cigarette craving score was assessed. The FC-added rtfMRI-NF resulted in greater neuronal activity and increased FC between the targeted ROIs than the traditional activity-based rtfMRI-NF and resulted in lower craving score. In the FC-added rtfMRI-NF condition, the average of neuronal activity and FC was tightly associated with craving score (Bonferroni-corrected p = .028). However, in the activity-based rtfMRI-NF condition, no association was detected (uncorrected p > .081). Non-rtfMRI data analysis also showed enhanced neuronal activity and FC with FC-added NF than with activity-based NF. These results demonstrate that FC-added rtfMRI-NF facilitates greater volitional control over brain activity and connectivity and greater modulation of mental function than activity-based rtfMRI-NF.

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