Measuring endogenous changes in serotonergic neurotransmission with [11C]Cimbi-36 positron emission tomography in humans

Sofi da Cunha-Bang, Anders Ettrup, Brenda Mc Mahon, Anine Persson Skibsted, Martin Schain, Szabolcs Lehel, Agnete Dyssegaard, Louise Møller Jørgensen, Kirsten Møller, Nic Gillings, Claus Svarer, Gitte M Knudsen


Developing positron emission tomography (PET) radioligands for the detection of endogenous serotonin release will enable the investigation of serotonergic deficits in many neuropsychiatric disorders. The present study investigates how acute challenges that aim to increase or decrease cerebral serotonin levels affect binding of the serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) agonist radioligand [11C]Cimbi-36. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, three-arm design, 23 healthy volunteers were PET scanned twice with [11C]Cimbi-36: at baseline and following double-blind assignment to one of three interventions (1) infusion of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) citalopram preceded by oral dosing of the 5-HT1AR antagonist pindolol, (n = 8) (2) acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) (n = 7) and (3) placebo (n = 8). Two-sample t-tests revealed no significant group differences in percent change of neocortical [11C]Cimbi-36 binding from baseline to intervention between placebo and citalopram/pindolol (p = 0.4) or between placebo and ATD (p = 0.5). Notably, there was a significantly larger within-group variation in 5-HT2AR binding after intervention with citalopram/pindolol, as compared with placebo (p = 0.007). These findings suggest that neither ATD nor a combination of citalopram and pindolol elicit acute unidirectional changes in serotonin levels sufficient to be detected with [11C]Cimbi-36 PET in neocortex. We suggest that the large interindividual variation in 5-HT2AR binding after citalopram/pindolol reflects that after an acute SSRI intervention, individuals respond substantially different in terms of their brain serotonin levels. Our observation has a potential impact for the understanding of patient responses to SSRI.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)134
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2019


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