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ARRA Investments in Neuroimaging Research

Public Health Burden
Technological innovation has paved the way for the development of safe, painless, and noninvasive neuroimaging techniques that produce images of the brain with a high degree of precision and detail.  Researchers and clinicians use today’s neuroimaging techniques to diagnose brain injury or disorders, guide complicated surgeries, monitor the treatment of people with neurological disease, and learn more about the inner workings of the brain in normal and disease states.  ARRA-supported investigators are working to refine existing neuroimaging tools, apply these tools within a variety of clinical and research contexts, and develop resources to store and share these images.

Enhancing Neuroimaging Methods and Tools
Among the neuroimaging techniques used in research and medical practice today are positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and functional MRI (fMRI).  ARRA-supported researchers are building on these and other techniques – and developing new ones – in order to facilitate brain research.
  • Investigators on one project are developing software that simplifies analysis of complex brain-image data relating to the structure and function of the human brain.1
  • Others are enabling novel technologies for routinely and rapidly mapping behaviorally-driven neural circuits over large regions of the brain with exquisite precision and detail.2
  • Other investigators are developing a “network diagram” linking genetic information with underlying brain circuitry in the neural systems controlling behavior and emotion.  This new tool will improve our understanding of the connectivity of many circuits that are disturbed in neurologic conditions, including mental illness, autism, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and addiction.3
  • Investigators are also developing a database of information from ongoing pediatric studies that will create a map detailing the genetic landscape of the developing human brain.  This knowledge will provide unprecedented opportunities for investigations of the relationship of genetic risk factors, development and gene-by-environment interactions that contribute to the development of many behavioral, neurological, and psychiatric diseases, including substance use disorders.4
  • Still others are developing a method for using a PET scanner to image oxygen-based free radical levels in the human brain.  Free radicals are small molecules in the body that are extremely reactive.  When elevated, they may injure the body by altering proteins and other important chemicals.5
  • Investigators on another project are making major advances in developing methodology for brain white matter tract imaging in an animal model.6
Using Neuroimaging To Better Understand Alzheimer’s Disease
One exciting area of neuroimaging research is the use of PET, MRI, and similar tools to understand and diagnose Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a progressive and irreversible brain disease that primarily affects older adults.  ARRA funding is allowing researchers to:
  • Build on their work with the highly successful AD Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) to determine the clinical, cognitive, imaging, genetic, and biochemical biomarker characteristics of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), often a precursor condition to AD.7
  • Make the first-ever attempt to use PET imaging to assess the two pathological hallmarks of AD, amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, in the brains of living adults with Down syndrome (DS).  AD is extremely common among older individuals with DS.8
  • Validate a new inflammation imaging agent known as [11C]Arachidonic acid in individuals with and without cognitive dysfunction.  Brain inflammation is associated with the characteristic amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary pathology, and neuronal damage of AD, but there is no accepted in vivo imaging modality for brain inflammation.9
  • Develop quantitative diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) analysis techniques to detect white matter (WM) abnormalities in AD.  Some investigators hypothesize that WM, especially the limbic tracts of the brain, is one of the primary targets of AD, and that DTI can sensitively detect changes in these WM tracts.10
  • Develop an optimal radioactive tracer that can be injected intravenously, enter the brain, and label amyloid in AD patients.  The radiotracer will be used for PET imaging studies of AD patients, providing early diagnosis, possibly before disease onset.11
Neuroimaging in Research on Other Diseases and Conditions
ARRA support is facilitating neuroimaging research in a number of other areas beyond Alzheimer’s disease.  For example, researchers are:
  • Using PET imaging to measure for the first time endocannabinoid receptor binding in the brains of alcohol-dependent individuals.12
  • Replicating and extending to patients with treatment-resistant depression a recent finding of elevated levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) in the brains of patients with major depression and exploring the relationship of brain MAO-A levels to treatment outcomes with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor in this difficult to treat population.  This research could address a critical unmet need to validate a biomarker that will predict treatment response for patients with treatment-resistant depression.13

  1. 2R01AG013743-13A1 -- Spatially Oriented Database for Digital Brain Images -- Edward Herskovits. (PA)
  2. 1RC1AG036053-01 -- Functional Activity Mapping of Brain Networks -- Carol Barnes (AZ)
  3. 1RC1NS069152-01 -- A Computational Framework for Mapping Long Range Genetic Circuits -- Julie R. Korenberg (contact), Tolga Tasdizen (UT)
  4. 1RC2DA029475-01 -- Creating a Pediatric Imaging-Genomics Data Resource -- T. Jernigan (contact), Linda Chang, Anders M. Dale, Thomas M. Ernst, Sarah S. Murray (CA)
  5. 1RC1AG036045-01 -- PET Brain Imaging of Reactive Oxygen Species -- Mark Mintun (MO)
  6. 1RC1AA019211-01 -- Advancing Diffusion Tensor Imaging and Analyses for Basic Alcohol Research -- Kathleen Sulik (NC)
  7. 1RC2AG036535-01 -- Amyloid Imaging, VMCI, and Analysis for ADNI -- Michael Weiner (CA)
  8. 1R21AG030681-01A2 -- Amyloid Plaque and Tangle Imaging in Alzheimer's Disease and Down Syndrome -- L. Nelson (CA)
  9. 1RC2AG036502-01 -- Imaging Neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) with [11C]Arachidonic Acid -- Shankar Vallabhajosula (contact) and Mony De Leon (NY)
  10. 1R21AG033774-01 -- Longitudinal and Cross-sectional White Matter Analysis of Alzheimer's Disease -- Kenichi Oishi (MD)
  11. 1R01AG028617-01A2 -- Novel PET Ligands for In Vivo Binding to Amyloid in AD -- Brian Ciliax (GA)
  12. 3RL1AA017540-03S1 -- Norepinephrine Transporter Imaging in Alcohol Dependence and Obesity -- A. Neumeister (CT)
  13. 1RC1MH088405-01 -- Developing a PET biomarker to predict response in treatment-resistant depression -- P. McGrath (NY)

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Page Last Updated on June 30, 2018 NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®