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Pharmacological functional (phMRI) studies are making a significant contribution to our understanding of drug-effects on brain systems. Pharmacological fMRI has an additional contribution to make in the translation of disease models and candidate compounds from preclinical to clinical investigation and in the early clinical stages of drug development. Here it can demonstrate a proof-of-concept of drug action in a small human cohort and thus contribute substantially to decision-making in drug development. We review the methods underlying pharmacological fMRI studies and the links that can be made between animal and human investigations. We discuss the potential fMRI markers of drug effect, experimental designs and caveats in interpreting hemodynamic fMRI data as reflective of changes in neuronal activity. Although there are no current published examples of fMRI applied to novel compounds, we illustrate the potential of fMRI across a range of applications and with specific reference to processing of pain in the human brain and pharmacological analgesia. Pharmacological fMRI is developing to meet the neuroscientific challenges. Electrophysiological methods can be used to corroborate the drug effects measured hemodynamically with fMRI. In future, pharmacological fMRI is likely to extend to examinations of the spinal cord and into pharmacogenetics to relate genetic polymorphisms to differential responses of the brain to drugs.

Original publication




Journal article


J Magn Reson Imaging

Publication Date





862 - 876


Animals, Brain, Brain Mapping, Clinical Medicine, Drug Design, Drug Evaluation, Evoked Potentials, Humans, Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging