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Thursday, 7 July 2011

Structural and functional imaging

Structural and functional imaging

A scan of the brain using fMRI
There are several methods for detecting brain activity changes by three-dimensional imaging of local changes in blood flow. The older methods are SPECT and PET, which depend on injection of radioactive tracers into the bloodstream. The newest method, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), has considerably better spatial resolution and involves no radioactivity.[25] Using the most powerful magnets currently available, fMRI can localize brain activity changes to regions as small as one cubic millimeter. The downside is that the temporal resolution is poor: when brain activity increases, the blood flow response is delayed by 1–5 seconds and lasts for at least 10 seconds. Thus, fMRI is a very useful tool for learning which brain regions are involved in a given behavior, but gives little information about the temporal dynamics of their responses. A major advantage for fMRI is that, because it is non-invasive, it can readily be used on human subjects.

Effects of brain damage

A key source of information about the function of brain regions is the effects of damage to them.[26] In humans, strokes have long provided a "natural laboratory" for studying the effects of brain damage. Most strokes result from a blood clot lodging in the brain and blocking the local blood supply, causing damage or destruction of nearby brain tissue: the range of possible blockages is very wide, leading to a great diversity of stroke symptoms. Analysis of strokes is limited by the fact that damage often crosses into multiple regions of the brain, not along clear-cut borders, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions.

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