What is fMRI?  

fMRI LETS YOU “SEE” THE BRAIN IN ACTION

Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is one of the most exciting technologies to come about in recent years.

For many years previous to fMRI, scientists have been able to scan the brain and produce 3-dimensional images of the brain’s structure and physical nature.  But now, with advancements in imaging technology leading to fMRI, scientists and clinicians can actually scan for real-time neuronal activity, which is essentially being able to see mental processes happening in the brain—both where specifically they occur and how intensely—over a period of time.


fMRI REVEALS WHAT DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE BRAIN DO

fMRI allows scientists to begin to localize different thought processes to specific areas of the brain, something like creating a map of which areas are responsible for which processes. Just as a bicycle has many functional parts including brakes, pedals, steering handles, and gears, so too does the brain have multiple functional areas including long term and short term memory, language processing, object recognition, problem solving, attention, and so on.  Although many areas of the brain support multiple functions, recent data collection and studies have given light to the combined efforts of various brain regions and allowed scientists to have a much better understanding of the distinct functional capacities of the human brain.

To put it simply, fMRI now becomes a leading modality for scientists and clinicians to continually improve our understanding of what a properly functioning brain should look like; and in turn, understand how behavior, cognition, and actual brain function are effected by:

  1. Damage or disease of the brain
  2. Drugs, therapies, and treatments

A BRIEF TECHNICAL EXPLANATION OF fMRI PHYSICS

Neuronal activity requires lots of oxygen.  Oxygen is delivered to neurons through hemoglobin cells in the blood stream, which also carry a magnetic signature that can be measured by fMRI.  (fMRI is also known as Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent (BOLD) Imaging).

Since blood oxygenation varies depending on the level of neuronal activity, fMRI can detect and measure mental activity in various regions of the brain.

A good source of in-depth general information about fMRI in easy terminology can be found at RadiologyInfo.org.

Several text books, classes, and web resources are available to describe in-depth the science and physics behind fMRI.  Two excellent web resources can be found here:

(University of Oxford) Introduction to Functional MRI
(Columbia University) The Future Role of Functional MRI in Medical Applications


WHAT TO EXPECT IN A NOTUS fMRI SCAN

  1. It is NON-INVASIVE
  2. It does NOT expose you to RADIATION
  3. It does NOT require TRACERS or INJECTIONS
  4. It is INSURANCE COVERED by most providers

An fMRI is similar to a standard MRI in many ways. The time requirement is about an hour, and your head and shoulders will be inserted into the bore (like a tube) of an MRI device for scanning. Unique to fMRI is that you will be given a button response pad to hold in your hands as well as a screen to look at (or some other similar visual device such as goggles). The test administrator will guide you through several cognitive exercises, some of which you will respond to using the button response pad and some of which you will perform in your mind only.

During the exam, the MR system will be able to see how your brain activates and will measure data that will be used to assess your overall performance.

Armed with this information, your physician will be better able to provide you the answers you are looking for.


 
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