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Molecular-Level Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Dopaminergic Signaling

Science  02 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6183, pp. 533-535
DOI: 10.1126/science.1249380

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Watching Brain Molecules

Functional neuroimaging using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) molecular sensors would be useful for mechanistic analysis of neural systems. Lee et al. (p. 533) applied MRI-detectable sensors to measure molecular aspects of brain function in conjunction with noninvasive imaging. The molecular sensor revealed a quantitative spatiotemporal map of dopamine release in the ventral striatum, a brain area involved in processing rewards.

Abstract

We demonstrate a technique for mapping brain activity that combines molecular specificity and spatial coverage using a neurotransmitter sensor detectable by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This molecular functional MRI (fMRI) method yielded time-resolved volumetric measurements of dopamine release evoked by reward-related lateral hypothalamic brain stimulation of rats injected with the neurotransmitter sensor. Peak dopamine concentrations and release rates were observed in the anterior nucleus accumbens core. Substantial dopamine transients were also present in more caudal areas. Dopamine-release amplitudes correlated with the rostrocaudal stimulation coordinate, suggesting participation of hypothalamic circuitry in modulating dopamine responses. This work provides a foundation for development and application of quantitative molecular fMRI techniques targeted toward numerous components of neural physiology.

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