Scott E. Lukas, PhD

Scott E. Lukas, PhD

McLean Hospital Title
Harvard Medical School Title
  • Professor of Psychiatry


Scott E. Lukas received his PhD in pharmacology and toxicology in 1979 from the University of Maryland. After a post-doctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, he joined NIDA Addiction Research Center for 18 months before moving to McLean in 1984. Promoted to professor in 2003, Dr. Lukas directs the McLean Imaging Center, the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory, and a NIDA T32 Post-Doctoral Training Program. He chaired NIDA-K study section for 10 years, was president of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence and has won numerous mentoring awards.

Dr. Lukas’ research interests are the neurobiological basis of drug and alcohol addiction, including pharmacokinetics, polydrug abuse, sex differences, complementary/alternative medicine, and medication development. He uses actigraphy and various imaging technologies to measure changes in brain function that reflect consciousness, sleep, performance, mood states, and reward after drug administration or drug-related cues in adults and adolescents.

Research Focus:

As director of the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory and co-director of the McLean Imaging Center, Dr. Lukas is a leading expert on brain research in the areas of substance abuse and neuroimaging.

In 1996, Dr. Lukas established the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory (BPRL), which includes programs in clinical trials/outpatient research, human pharmacology and pharmacokinetics, human electrophysiology, natural settings, and clinical chemistry.

The BPRL is dedicated to studying the effects of psychoactive drugs on brain function and human behavior. The reinforcing effects of drugs and alcohol make initial quitting and sustained abstinence extremely difficult. Dr. Lukas’ group studies the brain reward systems involved in the addiction process and is developing alternative treatments for drug and alcohol abuse.

Dr. Lukas’ multidisciplinary staff includes pharmacologists, clinical and research psychologists, psychiatrists, and imaging technologists who are expert at using many tools such as magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy (MRI/MRS), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), brain electrical activity (EEG), pharmacokinetic and physiological measurements, ecological assessments of drug use, and subjective assessments of mood and cue-induced cravings.

A variety of approaches are used to measure brain function while individuals perform various tasks. In addition, plasma drug levels are also measured to determine the rate at which drugs are removed from the body. Many of these strategies are used to then test novel medications (including herbal preparations) or therapies (including electroacupuncture) for drug and alcohol abuse.

The following is a sampling of Dr. Lukas’ research.

Dr. Lukas’ lab has demonstrated that short-term treatment with a standardized kudzu extract (Alkontrol-Herbal™) reduces binge drinking in a natural setting. Recently, they have shown that it is equally effective in reducing total drinking days and heavy drinking days in an outpatient setting. The lab is now poised to develop the product via a NIH Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant.

Oral naltrexone may reduce heavy drinking, but extended release naltrexone (XR-NTX) also maintains abstinence. The lab’s study measured the effects of XR-NTX on alcohol cue reactivity in alcohol-dependent volunteers. Brain activation (fMRI) was significantly altered in XR-NTX-treated individuals in regions associated with the integration of emotion, cognition, reward, punishment, and learning/memory. This suggests that XR-NTX reduces the impact of alcohol-related cues that may interrupt the processes associated with “slips” and relapse and help maintain abstinence.

The sight and smell of alcohol or nicotine on people with alcohol or nicotine dependency (cue receptivity) is a major predictor of relapse. Identifying susceptibility to these cues facilitates environmental modifications that can reduce the risk of relapse.

Dr. Lukas’ team is investigating the driver alcohol detection system for safety, a non-invasive in-vehicle alcohol detection technology that prevents drivers from starting a vehicle if their estimated blood alcohol concentration exceeds the legal limit. Both breath and skin levels of alcohol are detected in the driver. This research is funded by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Laura Carhart, RPSGT, Sleep Laboratory Technician
  • Sharon Collins, Sleep Laboratory Technician
  • Marc L. Copersino, PhD, Research Psychologist
  • Jane McNeil, MS, Chemist
  • John Rodolico, PhD, Psychologist
  • Wendy Tartarini, MA, Senior Research Coordinator
  • Gordana D. Vitaliano, MD, PhD, Psychiatrist/Study Physician
  • Blaise Frederick, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • Joshi Gagan, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Staci Gruber, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • Kevin P. Hill, MD, MHS, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
  • Amy C. Janes, PhD, National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Bruce Jenkins, PhD, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Marc J. Kaufman, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • Alexandros Makriyannis, Northeastern University
  • Marisa M. Silveri, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • John Winkelman, MD, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital
Selected Publications:

Penetar DM, Toto LH, Lee DY, Lukas SE. A single dose of kudzu extract reduces alcohol consumption in a binge drinking paradigm. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2015;153:194-200.

Gruber SA, Sagar KA, Dahlgren MK, Gonenc A, Conn NA, Winer JP, Penetar DM, Lukas SE. Citicoline treatment improves measures of impulsivity and task performance in chronic marijuana smokers: a pilot BOLD fMRI study. International Journal of Neurology and Neurotherapy 2015;2(3):1-8.

Janes AC, Farmer S, Peechatka A, Frederick BB, Lukas SE. Insula-dorsal anterior cingulate cortex coupling is associated with enhanced brain reactivity to smoking cues. Neuropsychopharmacology 2015;40(7):1561-8.

PubMed search for Dr. Lukas


Book cover - Steroids

by Scott E. Lukas, PhD
(Enslow Publishers, 1994)

Book cover - Amphetamines

Amphetamines: Danger in the Fast Lane
by Scott E. Lukas
(Chelsea House, 1985)

Book spines

Testing Drugs for Abuse Liability and Dependence Potential: Methods Used in Animals and Man
Edited by Joseph V. Brady, Scott E. Lukas
(U.S. Government Printing Office, 1984)

Education & Training

  • 1975 BS in Biology, Pennsylvania State University
  • 1979 PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Maryland
  • 1979-1982 Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University
  • 1980-1981 Neuroscience Post-Doctoral Training Program, Department of Pharmacology, The Johns Hopkins University
  • 1981-1982 F32 Post-Doctoral Fellow, National Research Service Award, National Institute on Drug Abuse
Board Certifications:
  • 1998 DEA Schedules II-V Researcher
  • 2000 DEA Schedule I Researcher


Phone: 617.855.2767
Office Address: Belmont campus - McLean Imaging Center, Room 111