Feasibility of Functional MRI at Ultralow Magnetic Field via Changes in Cerebral Blood Volume

Up to now, no successful functional MRI was performed at ultralow magnetic fields (ULF). Therefore we tried to estimate the feasibility of such experiments with a simplified brain model. For a highly optimized ULF system we predict that functional MRI with a contrast to noise ratio of up to ≈ 7 is feasible with a measurement time of 30 minutes.

We investigate the feasibility of performing functional MRI (fMRI) at ultralow field (ULF) with a Superconducting QUantum Interference Device (SQUID), as used for detecting magnetoencephalography (MEG) signals from the human head. While there is negligible magnetic susceptibility variation to produce blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) contrast at ULF, changes in cerebral blood volume (CBV) may be a sensitive mechanism for fMRI given the five-fold spread in spin-lattice relaxation time (T1) values across the constituents of the human brain. We undertook simulations of functional signal strength for a simplified brain model involving activation of a primary cortical region in a manner consistent with a blocked task experiment. Our simulations involve measured values of T1 at ULF and experimental parameters for the performance of an upgraded ULFMRI scanner. Under ideal experimental conditions we predict a functional signal-to-noise ratio of between 3.1 and 7.1 for an imaging time of 30 min, or between 1.5 and 3.5 for a blocked task experiment lasting 7.5 min. Our simulations suggest it may be feasible to perform fMRI using a ULFMRI system designed to perform MRI and MEG in situ.

Buckenmaier K, Pedersen A, SanGiorgio, Scheffler K, Clarke J, Inglis B.:
Feasibility of functional MRI at ultralow magnetic field via changes in cerebral blood volume.

Neuroimage 2019;186:185.

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