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Simultaneous fMRI-PET of the opioidergic pain system in human brain.


MRI and PET provide complementary information for studying brain function. While the potential use of simultaneous MRI/PET for clinical diagnostic and disease staging has been demonstrated recently; the biological relevance of concurrent functional MRI-PET brain imaging to dissect neurochemically distinct components of the blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) fMRI signal has not yet been shown. We obtained sixteen fMRI-PET data sets from eight healthy volunteers. Each subject participated in randomized order in a pain scan and a control (nonpainful pressure) scan on the same day. Dynamic PET data were acquired with an opioid radioligand, [(11)C]diprenorphine, to detect endogenous opioid releases in response to pain. BOLD fMRI data were collected at the same time to capture hemodynamic responses. In this simultaneous human fMRI-PET imaging study, we show co-localized responses in thalamus and striatum related to pain processing, while modality specific brain networks were also found. Co-localized fMRI and PET signal changes in the thalamus were positively correlated suggesting that pain-induced changes in opioid neurotransmission contribute a significant component of the fMRI signal change in this region. Simultaneous fMRI-PET provides unique opportunities allowing us to relate specific neurochemical events to functional hemodynamic activation and to investigate the impacts of neurotransmission on neurovascular coupling of the human brain in vivo.

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