Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
Professor Trevor Robbins discusses how positron emission tomography (PET) works to provide detailed images of brain structure and chemistry.
PET, positron emission tomography, depends on the detection of radioactivity in the brain. So, typically the subject is given a radioactive substance, or ligand as it is called. It travels in their venous blood supply to the brain and wherever the brain is active, that PET ligand will be used. So, if you have a PET camera that can detect the radioactivity, you can build up a picture of where that radioactivity is happening in the brain. So, it enables you to map activity in the brain, and this can be done in several ways. You can map, for example, blood flow or oxygen consumption or glucose metabolism to determine which parts of the brain are most active, for example, in vision or in hearing or in memory or in movement. You can also do something very clever and use drugs that are specific tags or labels for neurotransmitters, such as dopamine receptors. So, you can actually image where the dopamine receptors are in the brain. And this can be a very important diagnostic tool in such conditions as Parkinson's disease where the dopamine is lost specifically from the striatum.
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