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The Neuroimaging Research Branch works in a highly interactive fashion across species, modalities and techniques with the common goal to better understand the neurobiological antecedents of illicit drug use and abuse, the neuronal consequences of acute and chronic drug administration and the potential reversibility of these neuroadaptations as a consequence of abstinence and/or treatment. The major paradigm employed towards this goal is the application of novel neuroimaging tools, predominantly MRI based, applied together with behavioral, cognitive and pharmacological manipulations coupled with genetic investigations in both preclinical and human based protocols. The long-term objective of our research is ultimately to identify those at high risk for drug dependence, inform the development of better behavioral and pharmacological interventions to treat substance abuse and provide a means to understand individual differences in order to better match an individual with a particular treatment regimen.
Our branch is divided into three semi-autonomous groups: technical development, preclinical models and human cognitive neuropsychopharmacology.
The technical development group, lead by Yihong Yang, creates and applies novel MRI pulse sequence acquisition methods to better manipulate the MRI environment to create signals of interest. For example, they have pioneered methods for glutamate and GABA MRS and quantitative cerebral blood flow. Additionally, they actively develop novel data analysis methods to better extract biologically relevant information from the MRI signal.
Our preclinical imaging group employs MRI and MRS tools using a very high field (9.4T) small bore Bruker scanner, electrophysiology, optical imaging and various behavioral tools to a) understand the neurophysiological bases of the BOLD signal, b) develop novel MR imaging tools and c) apply these tools to understand the neurobiological consequences of acute and chronic drug administration. Awake and anesthetized rodent and non-human primate models are employed to study nicotine, cocaine and methamphetamine abuse.
Finally, our human cognitive neuroscience and psychopharmacology group is applying multimodal MRI tools (BOLD signal activation, resting state functional connectivity, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), MR spectroscopy (MRS), EEG, real time fMRI biofeedback, and quantitative morphometry) to examine the biological predisposition towards and acute consequences of nicotine, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana addiction. We are also developing novel treatment assessments and interventions using neuroimaging biomarkers.