Abnormal brain activation to visual stimulation in cocaine abusers

Jing Huei Lee, Frank W. Telang, Charles S. Springer, Nora D. Volkow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Chronic cocaine abuse has been associated with cerebrovascular pathology. This is likely to reflect its vasoactive effects; cocaine produces vasoconstriction and reduces cerebral blood flow. We propose that cerebrovascular pathology in chronic cocaine abusers would result in abnormal BOLD [blood oxygenation level dependent] responses to activation stimuli. Here, we used fMRI to compared the BOLD response to photic visual stimulation in neurologically intact active cocaine abusers to that in non-drug-using healthy controls. Cocaine abusers showed a significantly enhanced positive BOLD response to photic stimulation when compared to control subjects. The enhanced activation in the cocaine abusers could result from low resting cerebral blood flow secondary to increased vasoconstriction and/or from low oxidative metabolism during activation. Alternatively, the larger signal intensity in the cocaine abusers could result from inefficient neuronal processing as has been shown to occur in other conditions of cerebral pathology. These findings provide evidence of cerebral dysfunction with chronic cocaine abuse, which could reflect cerebral blood flow or neuronal changes. Further studies are required to determine if the cerebrovascular changes we observed in the cocaine abusers recover with detoxification and to assess their functional consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1953-1961
Number of pages9
JournalLife Sciences
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 29 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Cocaine abuse
  • Functional MRI
  • Neurovascular pathology
  • Visual stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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