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Scans Show Cocaine’s Brain-Blood Squeeze

October 11, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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New imaging techniques show the extreme effects on blood flow in the brain caused by cocaine abuse.

Researchers at the Department of Biomechanical Engineering at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, developed the techniques. They used ultrahigh-resolution optical coherence tomography to get 3-D images of mouse brains all the way down to the level of tiny capillaries.  And they came up with a new algorithm to enhance the sensitivity of 3-D optical Doppler tomography to simultaneously show the blood flow in those capillaries.

The researchers applied those scanning techniques to examine the effects of cocaine on the blood supply in the brain. They discovered that cocaine at doses typically experienced by abusers of the drug strongly constricted veins and arteries, even tiny capillaries.

Blood flow decreased remarkably within just two or three minutes after the drug was administered. In some vessels, the flow decreased by 70 percent. The effect lasted up to 45 minutes and became more pronounced after repeated use of cocaine.

Principal investigator Yingtain Pan, PhD, summed up the findings:

Our study revealed evidence of cocaine-induced cerebral microischemic changes in multiple experimental models, and we were able to clearly image the process and vasoactive effects at a microvascular level. These clinical changes jeopardize oxygen delivery to cerebral tissue, making it vulnerable to ischemia and neuronal death.

Dr. Pan is a professor of biomedical engineering at Stony Brook. He was quoted in a university news release. He is also senior author of an article about the research published in the October issue of Molecular Psychiatry.

Stroke is one of the most serious risks of cocaine use. This study seems to show why. The researchers said the cocaine-induced reductions in blood flow might also explain some of the other neurological complications found in cocaine abusers, including sensory changes, numbness, facial paralysis, and varying degrees of irreversible paralysis in other parts of the body.

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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