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New MRI May Lead to Better Brain Pictures

MIT researchers say technology will yield more on circuitry and activity

MONDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers are reporting that they've developed a new kind of MRI sensor that can detect the neurotransmitter known as dopamine, potentially allowing doctors to get better views inside the brain.

Currently, functional MRI analyzes brain activity by detecting blood flow. But it's not instantaneous, and scientists have tried to develop MRI sensors that can respond to chemicals and give a better picture of what's going on in the brain.

In a new study, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they've done that.

"We have designed an artificial molecular probe that changes its magnetic properties in response to the neurotransmitter dopamine," study senior author Alan Jasanoff, an associate professor of biological engineering, said in an MIT news release. "This new tool connects molecular phenomena in the nervous system with whole-brain imaging techniques, allowing us to probe very precise processes and relate them to the overall function of the brain and of the organism."

"With molecular fMRI, we can say something much more specific about the brain's activity and circuitry than we could using conventional blood-related fMRI," Jasanoff said.

Dopamine, considered crucial in a variety of brain functions, has been linked to addiction, anxiety and depression.

The study was published Feb. 28 in Nature Biotechnology.

More information

Harvard University has information on how the brain works.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: MIT, news release, Feb. 28, 2010

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