Many of the most debilitating symptoms for psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia remain poorly
treated. As such, the development of novel treatments is urgently needed. Unfortunately, the costs associated with
high failure rates for investigational compounds as they enter clinical trials has led to pharmaceutical companies
downsizing or eliminating research programs needed to develop these drugs. One way of increasing the probability
of success for investigational compounds is to incorporate alternative methods of identifying biological targets in
order to more effectively screen new drugs. A promising method of accomplishing this goal for psychiatric drugs is
to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). fMRI investigates neural circuits, shedding light on the biology
that generates symptoms such as hallucinations. Once identified, relevant neural circuits can be targeted with
pharmacologic interventions and the response to these drugs measured with fMRI. This review describes the early use of fMRI in this
context, and discusses the alpha7 nicotinic receptor agonist 3-(2,4-dimethoxybenzylidene) anabaseine (DMXB-A), as an example of the
potential value of fMRI for psychiatric drug development.
Keywords: Biomarkers, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, nicotine, alpha7 nicotinic receptor, functional connectivity, SPEM.
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