How can neuroscience research help us to find new insights into brain function?
We can use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to provide 2- or 3-D images of the brain for the study of its anatomy, function, or molecular processes... or a combination of all three. The nice thing about MRI is that a researcher can chose whether the focus should be anatomical with a little bit of functional, for example, or, whether it should be molecular.
What information can in vivo neuroimaging give us about brain function and metabolism?
Using a technique called diffusion MRI, we can track axons directions throughout the brain and create connectivity maps of the brain, in a non-invasive and non-destructive manner.
On the functional side, we have a number of options. Functional MRI (fMRI) enables us to watch the brain while it thinks. This technique is a clinical standard and for more than a decade, we have been able to apply it to animals including rats and mice. Contrast agents are not required; we just monitor subtle signal changes due to the conversion of oxy- and deoxy- haemoglobin that enable us to clearly detect brain activity.
In addition, we are able to monitor changes in the cerebral blood flow, which is an important marker. In stroke research, we can see affected brain regions, probably with a higher precision than with most other non-destructive methods.
To investigate metabolites in vivo spectroscopy can be used. Using this, we can obtain chemical "fingerprints" of brain regions. The size of these regions are typically some millimeters cubed and the fingerprint that enables us to identify and quantify some dozens of metalbolites in that volume. These include major neurotransmitters and molecules involved in the energy pathway of the brain.
Why isn't MRI always a familiar technique amongst biologists?
MRI is typically not included in the biology curriculum. MDs receive a basic training in the background of MRI, and even much more if they eventually become radiologists. Biologists, however, are first introduced to these scanners when they use it as a technique to address a biological question. I studied both biology and chemistry, and in chemistry, I learned all the basics of NMR and MRI. If I had studied just biology, however, I would have never learned about the great possibilities of MRI.
Every biologist learns how to handle an optical microscope but, unless their university has a pre-clinical MRI scanner, they'll not be familiar with MRI technology. Bruker's MRI application experts have put their knowledge into pre-optimized protocols. Even users with minimal MRI background can quickly answer their biological questions.
Please outline the use and importance of MRI & PET/MRI in fundamental neuroscience research.
PET lacks anatomical information. Generally speaking, with PET, you track wherever your tracer goes in the body, and what you end up seeing are the only areas where the functionalized tracer is located.