The use of pharmacological-challenge fMRI in pre-clinical research: application to the 5-HT system

Anne Klomp, Jordi L. Tremoleda, Anouk Schrantee, Willy Gsell, Liesbeth Reneman

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Abstract

Pharmacological MRI (phMRI) is a new and promising method to study the effects of substances on brain function that can ultimately be used to unravel underlying neurobiological mechanisms behind drug action and neurotransmitter-related disorders, such as depression and ADHD. Like most of the imaging methods (PET, SPECT, CT) it represents a progress in the investigation of brain disorders and the related function of neurotransmitter pathways in a non-invasive way with respect of the overall neuronal connectivity. Moreover it also provides the ideal tool for translation to clinical investigations. MRI, while still behind in molecular imaging strategies compared to PET and SPECT, has the great advantage to have a high spatial resolution and no need for the injection of a contrast-agent or radio-labeled molecules, thereby avoiding the repetitive exposure to ionizing radiations. Functional MRI (fMRI) is extensively used in research and clinical setting, where it is generally combined with a psycho-motor task. phMRI is an adaptation of fMRI enabling the investigation of a specific neurotransmitter system, such as serotonin (5-HT), under physiological or pathological conditions following activation via administration of a specific challenging drug. The aim of the method described here is to assess brain 5-HT function in free-breathing animals. By challenging the 5-HT system while simultaneously acquiring functional MR images over time, the response of the brain to this challenge can be visualized. Several studies in animals have already demonstrated that drug-induced increases in extracellular levels of e.g. 5-HT (releasing agents, selective re-uptake blockers, etc) evoke region-specific changes in blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) MRI signals (signal due to a change of the oxygenated/deoxygenated hemoglobin levels occurring during brain activation through an increase of the blood supply to supply the oxygen and glucose to the demanding neurons) providing an index of neurotransmitter function. It has also been shown that these effects can be reversed by treatments that decrease 5-HT availability(16,13,18,7). In adult rats, BOLD signal changes following acute SSRI administration have been described in several 5-HT related brain regions, i.e. cortical areas, hippocampus, hypothalamus and thalamus(9,16,15). Stimulation of the 5-HT system and its response to this challenge can be thus used as a measure of its function in both animals and humans(2,11)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3956
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Volume2012
Issue number62
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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