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J Sleep Res. 1999 Jun;8(2):85-93.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging neuroactivation studies in normal subjects and subjects with the narcoleptic syndrome. Actions of modafinil.

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Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London, UK.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used to detect regional brain responses to changes in sensory stimuli. We have used fMRI to determine the amount of visual and auditory cortical activation in 12 normal subjects and 12 subjects with the narcoleptic syndrome, using a multiplexed visual and auditory stimulation paradigm. In both normal and narcoleptic subjects, mean cortical activation levels during the presentation of periodic visual and auditory stimulation showed no appreciable differences with either age or sex. Normal subjects showed higher levels of visual activation at 10:00 hours than 15:00 hours, with a reverse pattern in narcoleptic subjects (P = 0.007). The group differences in spatial extent of cortical activation between control and narcoleptic subjects were small and statistically insignificant. The alerting action, and imaging response, to a single oral dose of the sleep-preventing drug modafinil 400 mg were then determined and compared with placebo in both the 12 normal (8 given modafinil, 4 placebo) and 12 narcoleptic subjects (8 modafinil, 4 placebo). Modafinil caused an increase in self-reported levels of alertness in 7 of 8 narcoleptic subjects, but there was no significant difference between mean pretreatment and post-treatment activation levels as determined by fMRI for either normal or narcoleptic syndrome subjects given modafinil. However, in the modafinil-treated group of 8 normal and 8 narcoleptic subjects, there was a clock time independent correlation between the initial level of activation as determined by the pretreatment scan and the post-treatment change in activation (visual, P = 0.002; and auditory, P = 0.001). No correlation was observed in placebo-treated subjects (P = 0.99 and 0.77, respectively). Although limited by the small number of subjects, and the lack of an objective measure of alertness, the findings of this study suggest that low cortical activation levels in both normal and narcoleptic subjects are increased following the administration of modafinil. Functional magnetic resonance imaging may be a valuable addition to established studies of attention.

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