Modeling sensitization to stimulants in humans: an [11C]raclopride/positron emission tomography study in healthy men

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Dec;63(12):1386-95. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.63.12.1386.


Context: In animals, repeated exposure to stimulant drugs leads to an enhanced drug-induced psychomotor response and increased dopamine release. This phenomenon, known as sensitization, may confer vulnerability to drug addiction or drug-induced psychosis in humans. A similar phenomenon, referred to as endogenous sensitization, is also believed to play a role in the emergence of positive symptoms in patients with schizophrenia.

Objective: To determine whether behavioral and neurochemical sensitization occur in healthy individuals after limited exposure to amphetamine in the laboratory.

Design: Open-label, 1-year follow-up of repeated amphetamine administration in healthy volunteers.

Setting: Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, and McConnell Brain Imaging Center, Montreal Neurological Institute.

Participants: Ten healthy men (mean +/- SD age, 25.8 +/- 1.8 years).

Intervention: Three single doses of amphetamine (dextroamphetamine sulfate, 0.3 mg/kg by mouth) were administered on days 1, 3, and 5.

Main outcome measures: Using positron emission tomography and [11C]raclopride, we measured dopamine release in response to amphetamine on the first exposure (day 1) and 14 days and 1 year after the third exposure.

Results: The initial dose of amphetamine caused dopamine release in the ventral striatum (a reduction in [11C]raclopride binding). Consistent with a sensitization-like phenomenon, 14 and 365 days after the third dose of amphetamine there was a greater psychomotor response and increased dopamine release (a greater reduction in [11C]raclopride binding), relative to the initial dose, in the ventral striatum, progressively extending to the dorsal caudate and putamen. A high novelty-seeking personality trait and self-rating assessments indicating impulsivity predicted proneness to sensitization.

Conclusions: Sensitization to stimulants can be achieved in healthy men in the laboratory. This phenomenon is associated with increased dopamine release and persists for at least 1 year.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects
  • Affect / physiology
  • Attention / drug effects
  • Attention / physiology
  • Basal Ganglia / diagnostic imaging
  • Basal Ganglia / drug effects
  • Basal Ganglia / metabolism*
  • Behavior, Addictive / metabolism
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Carbon Radioisotopes / metabolism
  • Carbon Radioisotopes / pharmacokinetics
  • Caudate Nucleus / diagnostic imaging
  • Caudate Nucleus / drug effects
  • Caudate Nucleus / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / administration & dosage
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Dextroamphetamine / administration & dosage
  • Dextroamphetamine / pharmacology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Antagonists / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / metabolism
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / drug effects*
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / statistics & numerical data*
  • Putamen / diagnostic imaging
  • Putamen / drug effects
  • Putamen / metabolism
  • Raclopride / metabolism*
  • Raclopride / pharmacokinetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine / drug effects
  • Receptors, Dopamine / metabolism


  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Raclopride
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Dopamine