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Researchers Studying Effects of Caffeine on Brain Activity

Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center are using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the effects of caffeine on blood flow and brain activity in low, moderate and heavy caffeine drinkers.

Caffeine is the most widely used neurostimulant in the world and it has been shown that 79 percent of the United States population drinks coffee or other beverages containing caffeine at least occasionally. This high incidence of use is significant because caffeine can affect the results of several common diagnostic tests, including MRI.

“It is well known that caffeine use causes both the constriction of blood vessels to the brain and increased brain activity,” said Paul Laurienti, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of radiologic sciences and lead investigator of the study. The long-term objective is to gain a more thorough understanding of the effects of caffeine on brain activity and blood flow and how those effects modulate brain imaging measures.

The four-year research study, funded by NIBIB (National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering), is an extension of previous studies by Laurienti and colleagues in the Advanced Neuroscience Imaging Research (ANSIR) Laboratory at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

“Our primary hypothesis is that brain activity increases will be the dominant effect of a dose of caffeine in long-term users,” said Laurienti. “However, blood flow decreases will be the prevailing effect in people that do not use caffeine on a regular basis.” Better understanding the role of caffeine in brain activity may lead to more accurate imaging results and define its potential use in enhancing brain images.

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Media Contacts: Jonnie Rohrer, 336-716-6972, ; Shannon Koontz,, or Karen Richardson,, at 336-716-4587.

About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. It is licensed to operate 1,187 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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