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J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2010 Oct;30(10):1682-706. doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2010.104. Epub 2010 Jul 28.

Measuring endogenous 5-HT release by emission tomography: promises and pitfalls.

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Imperial College London, UK.


Molecular in vivo neuroimaging techniques can be used to measure regional changes in endogenous neurotransmitters, evoked by challenges that alter synaptic neurotransmitter concentration. This technique has most successfully been applied to the study of endogenous dopamine release using positron emission tomography, but has not yet been adequately extended to other neurotransmitter systems. This review focuses on how the technique has been applied to the study of the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) system. The principles behind visualising fluctuations in neurotransmitters are introduced, with reference to the dopaminergic system. Studies that aim to image acute, endogenous 5-HT release or depletion at 5-HT receptor targets are summarised, with particular attention to studies in humans. Radiotracers targeting the 5-HT(1A), 5-HT(2A), and 5-HT(4) receptors and the serotonin reuptake transporter have been explored for their sensitivity to 5-HT fluctuations, but with mixed outcomes; tracers for these targets cannot reliably image endogenous 5-HT in humans. Shortcomings in our basic knowledge of the mechanisms underlying changes in binding potential are addressed, and suggestions are made as to how the selection of targets, radiotracers, challenge paradigms, and experimental design might be optimised to improve our chances of successfully imaging endogenous neurotransmitters in the future.

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