New technique offers a more detailed view of brain activity

Monday, March 1, 2010 - 05:35 in Biology & Nature

For neuroscientists, one of the best ways to study brain activity is with a scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which reveals blood flow in the brain. However, although fMRI is a powerful tool for identifying brain regions that are active during a particular task, it offers only an indirect view of what’s happening. Measuring a more direct indicator of neural activity, such as concentrations of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that carry messages between neurons) could be much more valuable.Now, for the first time, MIT and Caltech researchers have come up with a new type of fMRI sensor that can do just that. The two sensors, described in the Feb. 28 online edition of Nature Biotechnology, detect dopamine — a neurotransmitter involved in learning, movement control and many other brain processes.“This new tool connects molecular phenomena in the nervous system with whole-brain imaging techniques, allowing us to probe very...

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