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Stanford-led team validates, extends fMRI research on brain activity
Date:5/16/2010

STANFORD, Calif. Like a motorist who knows that the "check engine" light indicates something important but ill-defined is happening, neuroscientists have relied heavily on an incompletely understood technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging to show them what the brain is doing when people respond to different stimuli. The non-invasive technology offers a window into the physiology of human cognition and emotion, but without a satisfying explanation of how some common fMRI signals are produced the ability of researchers to draw conclusions has been limited.

Now a Stanford University-led team has solved the mystery, and in doing so has discovered a new way to make fMRI signals based on increased blood flow even more useful. Combined with optogenetics (a technology developed at Stanford that employs genes from microbes to allow neurons to be controlled with pulses of light), blood-flow fMRI can now be used to study the brain-wide impact of changes in neural circuitry, such as ones that may underlie many neurological and psychiatric diseases.

The team's research will appear May 16 in the online version of Nature.

A 'BOLD' finding

The study is the first to prove what neurologists could only hope was true: that fMRI signals based on elevated levels of oxygenated blood in specific parts of the brain are caused by an increase in the excitation of specific kinds of brain cells. For example, in the past researchers could only assume that when they showed subjects a picture of someone they knew, stronger fMRI signal in a part of the brain that possibly deals with face recognition was caused by the excitation of neurons, rather than some other factor.

These signal increases are measured using the blood oxygenation level-dependent, or BOLD, technique.

Because researchers have published more than 250,000 papers using or building upon the BOLD technique, clarifying its true meaning is very im
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Contact: David Orenstein
davidjo@stanford.edu
650-736-2245
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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