Seeing How the Brain Changes During Aging

March 30, 1998

The national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, will be held in Dallas, March 29 - April 2. The following papers are among the 4,700 presentations that will be made:

Positron emission tomography (PET) opens a window on human health and behavior with its ability to visualize biochemical activity in the living body. The technique relies on short-lived, radioactive chemicals that emit bursts of energy as they decay. Scientists use these chemicals to harmlessly tag substances and trace their effect in the body through PET scan images. The following is a summary of one paper concerning radiotracer chemistry that will be presented in Dallas at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, world's largest scientific society.

As we age, our brains lose valuable dopamine receptors, which help govern our motor and cognitive skills. Joanna S. Fowler, Ph.D. and colleague Nora D. Volkow, M.D., of Brookhaven National Laboratory report that multiple radiotracer chemicals are helping researchers to study more precisely how the dopamine system changes as we age. These radiotracers can also shed light on brain changes associated with such conditions as Parkinson's disease and smoking. Raclopride and d-threo methylphenidate are two substances taken up by different parts of the dopamine cell. By tagging each substance with the radiotracer carbon-11, researchers can observe the dopamine system in action with a PET scan. The Brookhaven team used these radiotracers to study persons ranging in age from 23 to 86. The researchers asked each person to perform motor and cognitive tests and then used the PET scan to "watch" how their dopamine systems worked. The older the person, the more poorly they performed the tests and the lower their level of dopamine activity. Fowler's group has also developed a radiotracer that monitors the level of an enzyme called MAO B that breaks down dopamine. Levels of MAO B increase as we age, contributing to dopamine deficiency. A drug called L-Deprenyl inhibits MAO B and is used to treat patients with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Fowler says that the PET studies suggest that if we can do things to enhance the activity of dopamine in the human brain, we may be able to slow down some of the cognitive and motor declines in aging and might be able to help determine what doses of the drug would be most beneficial to an individual.

Paper ORGN 4 will be presented by J. S. Fowler from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Sun., March 29, in the Convention Center Ballroom A I, Level 3.

A nonprofit organization with a membership of more than 155,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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