Mental Illness and Brain PET/MRI
Manjari Murthy, Director of Product Management

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, an international event in recognition and support of the millions of people worldwide suffering from a range of illnesses that are pervasive, yet still poorly understood. Initiatives to improve the visibility of mental illness have led to increases in funding for their study and treatment, which has improved dramatically due to a number of factors – chief among them, neuroimaging and recently, PET/MRI.

PET/MR imaging has shed light on the pathophysiology of disorders such as PTSD and addiction. In a recent study, PET/MRI was used to show a correlation between dopamine signaling in the brain and neural activation in key cortical brain regions, which is informed by gene expression patterns linked to, among others, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (McCutcheon et al, 2021). This provides rich information about a genetic contribution to mental illness, potentially helping to better predict predisposition to disease and identify new treatment targets. Another study, by Zurcher et al (2021), used PET/MRI to illustrate a role for dopamine signaling in incentive processing in autism spectrum disorder, supporting the social motivation hypothesis of autism and potentially assisting in development of novel therapeutic interventions for an illness with an immense social impact.

Predicting the outcomes of treatment is another key application of brain PET/MRI in psychiatry. For example, PET/MRI is playing a key role in a study looking at the dynamics of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in patients with major depressive disorder (Kohler-Forsberg et al, 2020). This study hopes to identify biomarkers that might predict treatment response, and how they may change in response to treatment, as well as to provide a better understanding of the pathophysiology of a disease with a high prevalence and wide range of manifestations. Predicting treatment is also important to help doctors manage potential adverse effects of some drugs, balancing the risk-reward aspect of interventions.

Cubresa believes that an imaging system optimized for the brain will enable better research in psychiatry and other brain-related disciplines. Understanding the interconnectedness of key aspects of neurological structure and function can help develop effective personalized therapeutic and non-therapeutic treatment regimens and improve the health and wellbeing of suffers of these insidious diseases.

Sources:
McCutcheon et al, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34108214/
Zurcher et al, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33431841/
Kohler-Forsberg et al, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7391965/

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