Effects of yohimbine on cerebral blood flow, symptoms, and physiological functions in humans

Psychosom Med. Jul-Aug 2000;62(4):549-59. doi: 10.1097/00006842-200007000-00014.


Objective: Increases in adrenergic activity are associated with stress, anxiety, and other psychiatric, neurological, and medical disorders. To improve understanding of normal CNS adrenergic function, CBF responses to adrenergic stimulation were determined.

Methods: Using PET, the CBF changes after intravenous yohimbine, an alpha2-adrenoreceptor antagonist that produces adrenergic activation, were compared with placebo in nine healthy humans. Heart rate, blood pressure, Paco2, plasma catecholamines, and symptom responses were also determined.

Results: Among nonscan variables, yohimbine produced significant symptom increases (including a panic attack in one subject), a decrease in Paco2 due to hyperventilation, increases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and a trend toward a significant norepinephrine increase. Among scan results, yohimbine produced a significant decrease in whole-brain absolute CBF; regional decreases were greatest in cortical areas. Medial frontal cortex, thalamus, insular cortex, and cerebellum showed significant increases after normalization to whole brain. Medial frontal CBF change was correlated with increases in anxiety. A panic attack produced an increase instead of a decrease in whole-brain CBF. Factors potentially contributing to the observed CBF changes were critically reviewed. Specific regional increases were most likely due in large part to activation produced by adrenergically induced anxiety and visceral symptoms.

Conclusions: This study supports the relationship of anxiety and interoceptive processes with medial frontal, insular, and thalamic activation and provides a baseline for comparison of normal yohimbine-induced CNS adrenergic activation, adrenergically-based symptoms, and other markers of adrenergic function to stress, emotion, and the adrenergic pathophysiologies of various CNS-related disorders.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects
  • Arousal / drug effects*
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / blood supply
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Regional Blood Flow / drug effects
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*
  • Yohimbine / pharmacology*


  • Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists
  • Yohimbine