Vanderbilt University
Institute of Imaging Science

Ron Cowan, M.D., Ph.D.

Director, Psychiatric Neuroimaging Program
Associate Professor of Psychiatry Vanderbilt School of Medicine

Contact Information
(615) 322-2303


My lab uses neuroimaging to study the neurobiology of motivated behavior in humans, focusing on drug abuse and obesity.


Our lab uses neuroimaging and complementary methods to explore the neurobiology of addiction and its consequences in humans. Studies include those of drug use and reward function, the role of mood and monoamines in drug use and reward dysfunction, drug-induced toxicity, and neural mechanisms of overeating and obesity. Current areas of research include examining the long-term consequences of Ecstasy (MDMA) use and examining the role of reward dysfunction in the neurobiological mechanisms underpinning obesity.


Obese adults have visual attention bias for food cue images: evidence for altered reward system function. Castellanos EH, Charboneau E, Dietrich MS, Park S, Bradley BP, Mogg K, Cowan RL. Int J Obes (Lond). 2009 Sep;33(9):1063-73. Epub 2009 Jul 21.PMID: 19621020

Neuroimaging research in human MDMA users: a review. Cowan RL. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2007 Jan;189(4):539-56. Epub 2006 Jul 18. Review.PMID: 16847678

MDMA use is associated with increased spatial BOLD fMRI visual cortex activation in human MDMA users. Cowan RL, Haga E, deB Frederick B, Dietrich MS, Vimal RL, Lukas SE, Renshaw PF. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2006 Jun;84(2):219-28. Epub 2006 Jun 19.PMID: 16782178

Prior MDMA (Ecstasy) use is associated with increased basal ganglia-thalamocortical circuit activation during motor task performance in humans: an fMRI study. Neuroimage. 2009 Jul 1;46(3):817-26. Epub 2009 Mar 2.PMID: 19264142Karageorgiou J, Dietrich MS, Charboneau EJ, Woodward ND, Blackford JU, Salomon RM, Cowan RL.

Reduced cortical gray matter density in human MDMA (Ecstasy) users: a voxel-based morphometry study. Cowan RL, Lyoo IK, Sung SM, Ahn KH, Kim MJ, Hwang J, Haga E, Vimal RL, Lukas SE, Renshaw PF. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2003 Dec 11;72(3):225-35.PMID: 14643939