fMRI was developed simultaneously and independently, in 1991, by two BSC research partners: the University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) and Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) MR Center.
The first fMRI study was performed in the early ‘90s, but since then the technology has evolved, with much more powerful, high-field magnets, such as 7 Tesla or 9 Tesla, now available. This technology allows neuroscientists, from a multitude of disciplines including: neuroscience, neurology, psychiatry and psychology, to continue to refine their studies and explorations into discovering the secrets behind the dynamic, functioning brain. The Brain Sciences Center retains a strong working relationship with the CMRR and MGH-MR Center through their partnership in The MIND Institute, a consortium of neuroimaging sites and scientists.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) provides a “snapshot” of the active, dynamic, functioning brain that allows neuroinvestigators to pinpoint the region where brain activity is taking place. fMRI uses powerfull magnets to measure small changes in the brain’s blood oxygenation level that occur while a task is performed.
Through this non-invasive technology, investigators can get a dynamic picture of what’s happening in specific areas of the active, working brain by looking at changes in the oxi-hemoglobin flow to the head. The hemoglobin has different magnetic properties depending on if it is oxygenated or not. These differences can be seen in a brain imaged by fMRI technology. This process relates to the energy expended by the brain’s neurons within a specific area of the brain. The powerful magnets stimulate the atoms and molecules within the blood flowing to the brain’s cells. The stronger the magnet used, the higher the resolution of brain images. In addition, MRI produces no ionizing radiation, so potential risks to subjects or patients are reduced.
Used in conjunction with structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which provides an anatomical baseline, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allows for optimal spatial resolution during an activity. These images allow researchers to compare a healthy subject to a patient with a neurological disease or disorder.
Investigators can then gain valuable insights from comparing the differences between the two groups. In addition, fMRI combined with magnetoencephalogray (MEG), which provides an excellent temporal dimension of brain activity, allows investigators further insights into the basic workings of the brain.
Functional MRI studies can also give researchers valuable insights into the dysfunctional brain with respect to neurological disorders and diseases including: schizophrenia, stroke, mental retardation, Apraxia, and Alzheimer’s Disease by measuring changes in the oxygenation of the blood flowing within the brain. This technology helps investigators view the interactions of neurons from different areas of the brain. For example: scientists can look for interactions from the motor cortex to the cerebellum or basal ganglia in the case of a movement disorder such Ataxia.