Pet evaluation of the dopamine system of the human brain

Nora D. Volkow, Joanna S. Fowler, S. John Gatley, Jean Logan, Gene Jack Wang, Yu Shin Ding, Stephen Dewey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

214 Scopus citations


Dopamine plays a pivotal role in the regulation and control of movement, motivation and cognition. It also is closely linked to reward, reinforcement and addiction. Abnormalities in brain dopamine are associated with many neurological and psychiatric disorders including Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and substance abuse. This close association between dopamine and neurological and psychiatric diseases and with substance abuse make it an important topic in research in the neurosciences and an important molecular target in drug development, PET enables the direct measurement of components of the dopamine system in the living human brain. It relies on radiotracers which label dopamine receptors, dopamine transporters, precursors of dopamine or compounds which have specificity for the enzymes which degrade dopamine. Additionally, by using tracers that provide information on regional brain metabolism or blood flow as well as neurochemically specific pharmacological interventions, PET can be used to assess the functional consequences of changes in brain dopamine activity. PET dopamine measurements have been used to investigate the normal human brain and its involvement in psychiatric and neurological diseases. It has also been used in psychopharmacological research to investigate dopamine drugs used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and of schizophrenia as well as to investigate the effects of drugs of abuse on the dopamine system. Since various functional and neurochemical parameters can be studied in the same subject, PET enables investigation of the functional integrity of the dopamine system in the human brain and investigation of the interactions of dopamine with other neurotransmitters. Through the parallel development of new radiotracers, kinetic models and better instruments, PET technology is enabling investigation of increasingly more complex aspects of the human brain dopamine system. This paper summarizes the different tracers and experimenter strategies developed to evaluate the various elements of the dopamine system in the human brain with PET and their applications to clinical research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1242-1256
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Nuclear Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1996


  • imaging
  • neurological illnesses
  • neurotransmitters
  • pharmacology
  • psychiatric illnesses


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