The central cholinergic system is involved in several cognitive functions such as attention, consciousness, learning and memory. Functional imaging of this neurotransmitter system may provide novel opportunities in the diagnosis and evaluation of cognitive disorders. The aim of this study was to investigate the spatial and temporal activation patterns of muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (mAChR) stimulation in rat brain with pharmacological magnetic resonance imaging (phMRI). We performed blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) MRI and contrast-enhanced cerebral blood volume (CBV)-weighted MRI combined with injection of pilocarpine, a non-selective mAChR agonist. BOLD and CBV responses were assessed after pretreatment with methyl-scopolamine in order to block peripheral muscarinic effects. Region-of-interest analysis in individual animals and group-level independent component analysis failed to show significant BOLD signal changes following pilocarpine injection. However, with contrast-enhanced CBV-weighted MRI, positive CBV responses were detected in the cerebral cortex, thalamus, and hippocampus whereas a negative CBV response was observed in the striatum. Thus, pilocarpine-induced significant activation responses in brain regions that are known to have a high density of muscarinic receptors. Our study demonstrates that phMRI of mAChR stimulation in rats allows functional assessment of the cholinergic system in vivo.
- Functional MRI
- Cholinergic system