Although imaging studies in and of themselves have significant contributions to the study of human behavior, imaging in drug abuse has a much broader agenda. Drugs of abuse bind to molecules in specific parts of the brain in order to produce their effects. Positron emission tomography (PET) provides a unique opportunity to track this process, capturing the kinetics with which an abused compound is transported to its site of action. The specific examples discussed here were chosen to illustrate how PET can be used to map the regional distribution and kinetics of compounds that may or may not have abuse liability. We also discussed some morphological and functional changes associated with drug abuse and different stages of recovery following abstinence. PET measurements of functional changes in the brain have also led to the development of several treatment strategies, one of which is discussed in detail here. Information such as this becomes more than a matter of academic interest. Such knowledge can provide the bases for anticipating which compounds may be abused and which may not. It can also be used to identify biological markers or changes in brain function that are associated with progression from drug use to drug abuse and also to stage the recovery process. This new knowledge can guide legislative initiatives on the optimal duration of mandatory treatment stays, promoting long-lasting abstinence and greatly reducing the societal burden of drug abuse. Imaging can also give some insights into potential pharmacotherapeutic targets to manage the reinforcing effects of addictive compounds, as well as into protective strategies to minimize their toxic consequences.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors are supported by National Institutes of Health grants DA15082, DA16025, and DA15041 and performed under Brookhaven Science Associates contract DEAC0298CH10886 with the U.S. Department of Energy.
- Drug abuse
- Inhalant abuse
- Molecular imaging
- Positron emission tomography