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Mol Psychiatry. 2016 Oct;21(10):1408-16. doi: 10.1038/mp.2015.185. Epub 2015 Dec 15.

Cocaine attenuates blood flow but not neuronal responses to stimulation while preserving neurovascular coupling for resting brain activity.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Cocaine affects neuronal activity and constricts cerebral blood vessels, making it difficult to determine whether cocaine-induced changes in cerebral blood flow (CBF) reflect neuronal activation or its vasoactive effects. Here we assessed the effects of acute cocaine on both resting-state and stimulation responses to investigate cocaine's effects on neurovascular coupling and to differentiate its effects on neuronal activity from its vasoactive actions. We concurrently measured cortical field potentials via thinned-skull electroencephalography recordings and CBF with laser Doppler flowmetry in the rat's somatosensory cortex for both resting state and forepaw stimulation before and following cocaine administration (1 mg kg(-1), intravenously). Results show both resting-state field potentials and CBF were depressed after cocaine administration (19.8±4.7% and 52.1±13.4%, respectively) and these changes were strongly correlated with each other (r=0.81, P<0.001), indicating that cocaine did not affect neurovascular coupling at rest and that the reduction in resting CBF reflected reduction in synchronized spontaneous neuronal activity rather than vasoconstriction. In contrast, the forepaw stimulation-evoked neuronal activity was not changed by cocaine (P=0.244), whereas the CBF to the stimulation was reduced 49.9±2.6% (P=0.028) gradually recovering ∼20 min after cocaine injection, indicating that neurovascular coupling during stimulation was temporarily disrupted by cocaine. Neurovascular uncoupling by cocaine during stimulation but not during rest indicates that distinct processes might underlie neurovascular regulation for both stimulation and spontaneous activity. The greater reductions by cocaine to the stimulation-induced CBF increases than to the background CBF should be considered when interpreting functional MRI studies comparing activation responses between controls and cocaine abusers. Neurovascular uncoupling could contribute to cocaine's neurotoxicity, particularly for stimulation conditions when CBF might be insufficient to cover for the energetic demands of neuronal tissue.

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