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Original Article
December 2006

Modeling Sensitization to Stimulants in Humans: An [11C]Raclopride/Positron Emission Tomography Study in Healthy Men

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: McConnell Brain Imaging Center, Montreal Neurological Institute, Montreal, Quebec (Drs Boileau, Dagher, Leyton, Gunn, Diksic, and Benkelfat); Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery (Drs Boileau, Dagher, Gunn, and Diksic) and Psychiatry (Drs Leyton and Benkelfat), McGill University, Montreal; and Department of Psychiatry, Mackenzie Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton (Dr Baker).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63(12):1386-1395. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.63.12.1386

Context  In animals, repeated exposure to stimulant drugs leads to an enhanced drug-induced psychomotor response and increased dopamine release. This phenomenon, known as sensitization, may confer vulnerability to drug addiction or drug-induced psychosis in humans. A similar phenomenon, referred to as endogenous sensitization, is also believed to play a role in the emergence of positive symptoms in patients with schizophrenia.

Objective  To determine whether behavioral and neurochemical sensitization occur in healthy individuals after limited exposure to amphetamine in the laboratory.

Design  Open-label, 1-year follow-up of repeated amphetamine administration in healthy volunteers.

Setting  Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, and McConnell Brain Imaging Center, Montreal Neurological Institute.

Participants  Ten healthy men (mean ± SD age, 25.8 ± 1.8 years).

Intervention  Three single doses of amphetamine (dextroamphetamine sulfate, 0.3 mg/kg by mouth) were administered on days 1, 3, and 5.

Main Outcome Measures  Using positron emission tomography and [11C]raclopride, we measured dopamine release in response to amphetamine on the first exposure (day 1) and 14 days and 1 year after the third exposure.

Results  The initial dose of amphetamine caused dopamine release in the ventral striatum (a reduction in [11C]raclopride binding). Consistent with a sensitization-like phenomenon, 14 and 365 days after the third dose of amphetamine there was a greater psychomotor response and increased dopamine release (a greater reduction in [11C]raclopride binding), relative to the initial dose, in the ventral striatum, progressively extending to the dorsal caudate and putamen. A high novelty-seeking personality trait and self-rating assessments indicating impulsivity predicted proneness to sensitization.

Conclusions  Sensitization to stimulants can be achieved in healthy men in the laboratory. This phenomenon is associated with increased dopamine release and persists for at least 1 year.