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MIT: blood may help us think
Date:10/16/2007

e imaging, or fMRI, a widely used brain scanning method that indicates local changes in blood flow. Scientists looking at fMRI currently regard blood flow and volume changes as a secondary process that only provides read-out of neural activity, explains Rosa Cao, a graduate student in Moore's lab and co-author of the paper. If blood flow shapes neural activity and behavior, then fMRI is actually imaging a key contributor to information processing.

Again, studies in Moore's lab support this interpretation. For example, his fMRI studies of the sensory homunculus - the brain's detailed map of body parts like fingers, toes, arms, and legs- show that when more blood flows to the area representing the fingertip, people more readily perceive a light tap on the finger. This suggests that blood affects the function of this brain region and that information about blood flow can predict future brain activity. This finding does not undermine prior studies, but adds another, richer layer to their interpretation and makes fMRI an even more useful tool than it already is.

How could blood flow affect brain activity? Blood contains diffusible factors that could leak out of vessels to affect neural activity, and changes to blood volume could affect the concentration of these factors. Also, neurons and support cells called glia may react to the mechanical forces of blood vessels expanding and contracting. In addition, blood influences the temperature of brain tissue, which affects neural activity.

To Moore's knowledge, the Hemo-Neural Hypothesis offers an entirely new way of looking at the brain. No one ever includes blood flow in models of information processing in the brain, he asserts. One historical exception is the philosopher Aristotle, who thought the circulatory system was responsible for thoughts and emotions. Perhaps the ancient Greeks were on to something.


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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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