Bio · Science · Technology

Brain imaging: fMRI 2.0

Functional magnetic resonance imaging is growing from showy adolescence into a workhorse of brain imaging.

The blobs appeared 20 years ago. Two teams, one led by Seiji Ogawa at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, the other by Kenneth Kwong at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, slid a handful of volunteers into giant magnets. With their heads held still, the volunteers watched flashing lights or tensed their hands, while the research teams built the data flowing from the machines into grainy images showing parts of the brain illuminated as multicoloured blobs.

The results showed that a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) could use blood as a proxy for measuring the activity of neurons — without the injection of a signal-boosting compound1, 2. It was the first demonstration of fMRI as it is commonly used today, and came just months after the technique debuted — using a contrast agent — in humans3. Sensitive to the distinctive magnetic properties of blood that is rich in oxygen, the method shows oxygenated blood flowing to active brain regions. Unlike scanning techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG), which detects electrical activity at the skull’s surface, fMRI produces measurements from deep inside the brain. It is also non-invasive, which makes it safer and more comfortable than positron emission tomography (PET), in which radioactive compounds are injected and traced as they flow around the body.

Excerpt of an article written by Kerri Smith at NATURE. Continue HERE

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