Brain Imaging In Psychopharmacology Introduction

Functional brain imaging refers to a class of techniques that noninvasively measure correlates of neural activity. Positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are the two technologies most commonly used today to study the human brain "in action." The explosion of information about human brain function occurring in the past decade has resulted in large part from these two techniques. As will be described in this chapter, PET imaging has made considerable contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms of drug action, mostly through application of radiopharmaceutical labeling of neurotransmitter receptors. fMRI, on the other hand, has gained rapid acceptance because of the widespread availability of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, the lack of radioactive exposure, and the better image resolution offered.

The advent of neuroimaging techniques for probing in vivo human brain function undoubtedly represents a major milestone in the scientific endeavor of understanding the relationship between mental disorders and the brain. The development of the specific tools employed in brain mapping, although fairly recent, has already produced an impressive amount of experimental data, whose potential informational content is most likely being underexploited at the present time (Van Horn and Gazzaniga 2002). The neuroimaging approach offers the unique possibility of noninvasively investigating the neurophysiological, neuroanatomical, and neurochemical correlates of the living, performing human individual. As a complement to classical neuropsychology, this approach represents an unprecedented break from the necessity of lesion studies for the inference of structure-function relationships in the human brain. Furthermore, a neuroimaging assay can typically acquire data simultaneously from the entire cerebral system, thereby allowing the study of the distributed processing properties of the brain (Friston 2002). Those properties represent a fundamental and distinctive feature of massively parallel processing systems but are not easily penetrated with the standard neurophysiological methods employed in the animal, such as intracortical electrode recording, which can probe only a limited number of sites simultaneously.

[Portions of this chapter are reprinted from Berns GS: "Functional Neuroimaging." Life Sciences 65:2531-2540 1999. Copyright 1999, Elsevier Science. Used with permission.]

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