University of Oulu

Otto Turtonen, Aino Saarinen, Lauri Nummenmaa, Lauri Tuominen, Maria Tikka, Reetta-Liina Armio, Airi Hautamäki, Heikki Laurikainen, Olli Raitakari, Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen, Jarmo Hietala, Adult Attachment System Links With Brain Mu Opioid Receptor Availability In Vivo, Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, Volume 6, Issue 3, 2021, Pages 360-369, ISSN 2451-9022,

Adult attachment system links with brain mu opioid receptor availability in vivo

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Author: Turtonen, Otto1; Saarinen, Aino2,3; Nummenmaa, Lauri1,4;
Organizations: 1Turku PET Centre, Turku University Hospital and University of Turku, Turku, Finland
2Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
3Research Unit of Psychology, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
4Department of Psychology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
5Department of Psychiatry, Turku University Hospital and University of Turku, Turku, Finland
6Institute of Mental Health Research, Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
7Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
8Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
9Centre for Population Health Research, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
10Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 3.3 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Elsevier, 2021
Publish Date: 2022-03-06


Background: Secure attachment is important in maintaining an individual’s health and well-being. Attachment disturbances increase the risk for developing psychiatric disorders such as affective disorders. Yet, the neurobiological correlates of human attachment are poorly understood at the neurotransmitter level. We investigated whether adult attachment style is linked to functioning of the opioid and serotonergic systems in the human brain.

Methods: We used positron emission tomography with radioligands [¹¹C]carfentanil and [¹¹C]MADAM to quantify mu opioid receptor (n = 39) and serotonin transporter (n = 37) availability in volunteers with no current psychiatric disorders. Attachment style was determined according to the Dynamic-Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation with the structured Adult Attachment Interview.

Results: Secure attachment was associated with higher mu opioid receptor availability in the hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus, and prefrontal cortex when compared with insecure (i.e., avoidant or ambivalent groups combined) attachment. In contrast, attachment style was not associated with serotonin transporter availability.

Conclusions: Our results provide preliminary in vivo evidence that the opioid system may be involved in the neurocircuits associated with individual differences in adult attachment behavior. The results suggest that variation in mu opioid receptor availability may be linked with the individuals’ social relationships and psychosocial well-being and thus contributes to risk for psychiatric morbidity.

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Series: Biological psychiatry. Cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging
ISSN: 2451-9022
ISSN-E: 2451-9030
ISSN-L: 2451-9022
Volume: 6
Issue: 3
Pages: 360 - 369
DOI: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2020.10.013
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3124 Neurology and psychiatry
Funding: This study was supported by Academy of Finland Grant Nos. 116321 (to JH) and 304385 (to LN), the Gyllenberg Foundation (to AS), and Turku University Hospital EVO Grant No. P3848.
Copyright information: © 2021. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license by