Measuring endogenous changes in serotonergic neurotransmission with [11C]Cimbi-36 positron emission tomography in humans

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Developing positron emission tomography (PET) radioligands for the detection of endogenous serotonin release will enable the investigation of serotonergic deficits in many neuropsychiatric disorders. The present study investigates how acute challenges that aim to increase or decrease cerebral serotonin levels affect binding of the serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) agonist radioligand [11C]Cimbi-36. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, three-arm design, 23 healthy volunteers were PET scanned twice with [11C]Cimbi-36: at baseline and following double-blind assignment to one of three interventions (1) infusion of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) citalopram preceded by oral dosing of the 5-HT1AR antagonist pindolol, (n = 8) (2) acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) (n = 7) and (3) placebo (n = 8). Two-sample t-tests revealed no significant group differences in percent change of neocortical [11C]Cimbi-36 binding from baseline to intervention between placebo and citalopram/pindolol (p = 0.4) or between placebo and ATD (p = 0.5). Notably, there was a significantly larger within-group variation in 5-HT2AR binding after intervention with citalopram/pindolol, as compared with placebo (p = 0.007). These findings suggest that neither ATD nor a combination of citalopram and pindolol elicit acute unidirectional changes in serotonin levels sufficient to be detected with [11C]Cimbi-36 PET in neocortex. We suggest that the large interindividual variation in 5-HT2AR binding after citalopram/pindolol reflects that after an acute SSRI intervention, individuals respond substantially different in terms of their brain serotonin levels. Our observation has a potential impact for the understanding of patient responses to SSRI.

Original languageEnglish
Article number134
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • Benzylamines, Brain/diagnostic imaging, Carbon Radioisotopes, Citalopram/pharmacology, Double-Blind Method, Female, Healthy Volunteers, Humans, Male, Phenethylamines, Pindolol/pharmacology, Positron-Emission Tomography, Serotonergic Neurons/physiology, Serotonin/physiology, Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors/pharmacology, Synaptic Transmission, Young Adult

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