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A New Imaging Technique To Visualize Brain Activity To Drugs, Study

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A new imaging protocol developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven NationalBNL Laboratory. The technique enables them to visualize the brain activity in both normal individuals and those who are addicted to drugs. The study was recently presented at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology's annual meeting, which took place April 26 in Anaheim, CA.

Joanna Fowler and her colleague Gene-Jack Wang at Brookhaven, along with Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, focused on the dopamine activity since it is the central element that's being affected by the drugs. They combined positron emission tomography (PET) - a medical imaging technology useful for identifying brain diseases which can point the movement of the tracers on the brain and can reconstruct images of the dopamine system in action- with special radioactive tracers that bind to dopamine receptors.

According to a test carried out on several drug-addicts who were addicted to different drug and healthy individuals at a matched-age, results were similar and showed that people with addictions have 15-20 % fewer dopamine receptors than normal. Fowler, a senior scientist in Brookhaven's medical department noted "These addicted individuals all had a blunted dopamine response. This reinforces the idea that drug addicts experience diminished feelings of pleasure, which drives their continual drug use." Fowler added "So, while various drugs operate by unique mechanisms, they all share a commonality in that the dopamine receptors in the brains of addicted individuals show an under-stimulated reward system." Fowler continued "We still have a lot of research to do before we fully understand why people take drugs, but with this new PET scan application, we might help more people stop."

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