Brain imaging studies of cocaine abuse:
implications for medication development

London ED, Bonson KR, Ernst M, Grant S
The Brain Imaging Center,
National Institute on Drug Abuse,
Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.
Crit Rev Neurobiol 1999; 13(3):227-42


Contemporary in vivo brain imaging techniques confer the ability to assess brain function and structure noninvasively, and thereby can yield information to help guide the development of new treatments for substance abuse. The advantages and limitations of the major imaging modalities (positron emission tomography [PET], single photon emission computed tomography [SPECT], structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging [MRI, fMRI, respectively]) are discussed with respect to their applicability to research on cocaine abuse. The effects of acute administration of cocaine have been studied using PET and fMRI, with PET manifesting decreases in cerebral glucose metabolism and blood flow, and fMRI revealing regional effects that are correlated temporally with subjective responses. In addition, studies of drug abusers, abstinent from cocaine for various lengths of time, have revealed persistent differences in brain function and structure, especially in the frontal cortex, when compared with parameters in the brains of subjects who do not use illicit drugs of abuse. PET studies also have revealed abnormalities in markers for dopaminergic and opioid systems during withdrawal from cocaine. Moreover, studies of cue-elicited craving for cocaine demonstrate a connection between the response to drug-related stimuli and neural elements of cognition and emotion. The future directions of in vivo brain imaging to identify functional and structural alterations in the brains of cocaine abusers are discussed in relation to the development of medications to treat cocaine dependence.

AJ 76
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