Modelling human drug abuse and addiction with dedicated small animal positron emission tomography.


Drug addiction is a chronically relapsing brain disorder, which causes substantial harm to the addicted individual and society as a whole. Despite considerable research we still do not understand why some people appear particularly disposed to drug abuse and addiction, nor do we understand how frequently co-morbid brain disorders such as depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) contribute causally to the emergence of addiction-like behaviour. In recent years positron emission tomography (PET) has come of age as a translational neuroimaging technique in the study of drug addiction, ADHD and other psychopathological states in humans. PET provides unparalleled quantitative assessment of the spatial distribution of radiolabelled molecules in the brain and because it is non-invasive permits longitudinal assessment of physiological parameters such as binding potential in the same subject over extended periods of time. However, whilst there are a burgeoning number of human PET experiments in ADHD and drug addiction there is presently a paucity of PET imaging studies in animals despite enormous advances in our understanding of the neurobiology of these disorders based on sophisticated animal models. This article highlights recent examples of successful cross-species convergence of findings from PET studies in the context of drug addiction and ADHD and identifies how small animal PET can more effectively be used to model complex psychiatric disorders involving at their core impaired behavioural self-control.