Brain imaging research: does the science serve clinical practice?

Int Rev Psychiatry. 2007 Oct;19(5):541-58. doi: 10.1080/09540260701564849.


Brain imaging represents a potent tool to characterize biomarkers, biological traits that are pathognomonic for specific neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders. Positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) are imaging techniques used to identify alterations in the density and distribution of neurotransmitters, neuroreceptors, and transporters in specific regions of the brains of people with these disorders. Brain imaging research currently facilitates the elucidation of dysfunction of dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and other substances in people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, schizophrenia, alcoholism and other substance abuse disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and the syndromes of restless legs, Lesch-Nyhan, Rett, and Tourette. Thus, brain imaging research offers great potential for the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and cure of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders. Brain imaging research also facilitates new drug development and helps establish therapeutic doses of novel drugs. In particular, studies of specific receptors, such as the dopamine D2 receptor, before and after the administration of doses of drugs that occupy these D2 receptors, provide the means to determine receptor occupancy. For example, an optimal dose of D2 antagonist antipsychotics produces occupancy of 65% to 80% of D2 receptors, while a greater dose carries a risk of extrapyramidal side effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / drug therapy
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / pathology
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / pathology
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / instrumentation
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods
  • Psychotic Disorders / drug therapy
  • Psychotic Disorders / pathology
  • Psychotic Disorders / physiopathology
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacokinetics
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Science / trends
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon / methods


  • Psychotropic Drugs