Pharmacology

Pharmacology is another area in which fMRI has great potential. Although fMRI is poorly suited to identifying the binding sites of a drug (due to its inherent lack of sensitivity to chemicals in such relatively low concentrations), its good spatial resolution and moderate temporal resolution make it quite well suited to identifying which functional brain systems a drug influences. Studies of the action of clinically and socially significant drugs (such as addictive drugs) have revealed specific patterns and locations of activation via fMRI. Such studies (which include cocaine and nicotine and a growing list of psychoactive pharmaceuticals) are being conducted to learn more about how these drugs affect the brain. A better understanding of the anatomy and physiology of addiction may eventually lead to more effective treatments.

More generally, an important possible use of fMRI could be the determination, on an individual patient level, of whether or not a drug is affecting the appropriate brain systems and the quantification of the strength of that effect and thus potentially guide dosage. Since it is difficult to predict the dose-response effects of a drug on any given individual, fMRI could potentially speed the process of prescribing effective drugs in appropriate doses. Similarly, fMRI has the potential to aid drug development by quickly identifying the brain areas on which a drug acts, increasing knowledge about an existing drug, or helping to identify potential uses of a new drug. Finally, because fMRI has a temporal resolution that is rapid compared to most of the effects of psychoactive drugs, it is possible to use fMRI to follow the pharmacokinetic profile of such drugs.

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