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3.1.3: Techniques for Assessing Brain Anatomy / Physiological Function

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    X-ray picture.

    CAT scanning was invented in 1972 by the British engineer Godfrey N. Hounsfield and the South African (later American) physicist Alan Cromack.

    CAT (Computed Axial Tomography) is an x-ray procedure which combines many x-ray images with the aid of a computer to generate cross-sectional views, and when needed 3D images of the internal organs and structures of the human body. A large donut-shaped x-ray machine takes x-ray images at many different angles around the body. Those images are processed by a computer to produce cross-sectional picture of the body. In each of these pictures the body is seen as an x-ray ‘slice’ of the body, which is recorded on a film. This recorded image is called a tomogram.

    CAT scans are performed to analyze, for example, the head, where traumatic injuries (such as blood clots or skull fractures), tumors, and infections can be identified. In the spine the bony structure of the vertebrae can be accurately defined, as can the anatomy of the spinal cord. CAT scans are also extremely helpful in defining body organ anatomy, including visualizing the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, aorta, kidneys, uterus, and ovaries. The amount of radiation a person receives during a CAT scan is minimal. In men and non-pregnant women it has not been shown to produce any adverse effects. However, doing a CAT test hides some risks. If the subject or the patient is pregnant it maybe recommended to do another type of exam to reduce the possible risk of exposing her fetus to radiation. Also in cases of asthma or allergies it is recommended to avoid this type of scanning. Since the CAT scan requires a contrast medium, there's a slight risk of an allergic reaction to the contrast medium. Having certain medical conditions; Diabetes, asthma, heart disease, kidney problems or thyroid conditions also increases the risk of a reaction to contrast medium.


    Although CAT scanning was a breakthrough, in many cases it was substituted by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a method of looking inside the body without using x-rays, harmful dyes or surgery. Instead, radio waves and a strong magnetic field are used in order to provide remarkably clear and detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues.


    MRI head side

    History and Development of MRI

    MRI is based on a physics phenomenon called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which was discovered in the 1930s by Felix Bloch (working at Stanford University) and Edward Purcell (from Harvard University). In this resonance, magnetic field and radio waves cause atoms to give off tiny radio signals. In the year 1970, Raymond Damadian, a medical doctor and research scientist, discovered the basis for using magnetic resonance imaging as a tool for medical diagnosis. Four years later a patent was granted, which was the world's first patent issued in the field of MRI. In 1977, Dr. Damadian completed the construction of the first “whole-body” MRI scanner, which he called the ”Indomitable”. The medical use of magnetic resonance imaging has developed rapidly. The first MRI equipment in healthcare was available at the beginning of the 1980s. In 2002, approximately 22,000 MRI scanners were in use worldwide, and more than 60 million MRI examinations were performed.


    A full size MRI-Scanner.

    Common Uses of the MRI Procedure

    Because of its detailed and clear pictures, MRI is widely used to diagnose sports-related injuries, especially those affecting the knee, elbow, shoulder, hip and wrist. Furthermore, MRI of the heart, aorta and blood vessels is a fast, non-invasive tool for diagnosing artery disease and heart problems. The doctors can even examine the size of the heart-chambers and determine the extent of damage caused by a heart disease or a heart attack. Organs like lungs, liver or spleen can also be examined in high detail with MRI. Because no radiation exposure is involved, MRI is often the preferred diagnostic tool for examination of the male and female reproductive systems, pelvis and hips and the bladder.


    An undetected metal implant may be affected by the strong magnetic field. MRI is generally avoided in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Scientists usually use other methods of imaging, such as ultrasound, on pregnant women unless there is a strong medical reason to use MRI.



    Reconstruction of nerve fibers

    There has been some further development of the MRI: The DT-MRI (diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging) enables the measurement of the restricted diffusion of water in tissue and gives a 3-dimensional image of it. History: The principle of using a magnetic field to measure diffusion was already described in 1965 by the chemist Edward O. Stejskal and John E. Tanner. After the development of the MRI, Michael Moseley introduced the principle into MR Imaging in 1984 and further fundamental work was done by Dennis LeBihan in 1985. In 1994 the engineer Peter J. Basser published optimized mathematical models of an older diffusion-tensor model.[1] This model is commonly used today and supported by all new MRI-devices.

    The DT-MRI technique takes advantage of the fact that the mobility of water molecules in brain tissue is restricted by obstacles like cell membranes. In nerve fibers mobility is only possible alongside the axons. So measuring the diffusion gives rise to the course of the main nerve fibers. All the data of one diffusion-tensor are too much to process in a single image, so there are different techniques for visualization of different aspects of this data: - Cross section images - tractography (reconstruction of main nerve fibers) - tensor glyphs (complete illustration of diffusion-tensor information)

    The diffusion manner changes by patients with specific diseases of the central nervous system in a characteristic way, so they can be discerned by the diffusion-tensor technique. Diagnosis of apoplectic strokes and medical research of diseases involving changes of the white matter, like Alzheimer's disease or Multiple sclerosis are the main applications. Disadvantages of DT-MRI are that it is far more time consuming than ordinary MRI and produces large amounts of data, which first have to be visualized by the different methods to be interpreted.


    The fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance) Imaging is based on the Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). The way this method works is the following: All atomic nuclei with an odd number of protons have a nuclear spin. A strong magnetic field is put around the tested object which aligns all spins parallel or antiparallel to it. There is a resonance to an oscillating magnetic field at a specific frequency, which can be computed in dependence on the atom type (the nuclei’s usual spin is disturbed, which induces a voltage s (t), afterwards they return to the equilibrium state). At this level different tissues can be identified, but there is no information about their location. Consequently the magnetic field’s strength is gradually changed, thereby there is a correspondence between frequency and location and with the help of Fourier analysis we can get one-dimensional location information. Combining several such methods as the Fourier analysis it is possible to get a 3D image.


    fMRI picture

    The central idea for fMRI is to look at the areas with increased blood flow. Hemoglobin disturbs the magnetic imaging, so areas with an increased blood oxygen level dependant (BOLD) can be identified. Higher BOLD signal intensities arise from decreases in the concentration of deoxygenated haemoglobin. An fMRI experiment usually lasts 1-2 hours. The subject will lie in the magnet and a particular form of stimulation will be set up and MRI images of the subject's brain are taken. In the first step a high resolution single scan is taken. This is used later as a background for highlighting the brain areas which were activated by the stimulus. In the next step a series of low resolution scans are taken over time, for example, 150 scans, one every 5 seconds. For some of these scans, the stimulus will be presented, and for some of the scans, the stimulus will be absent. The low resolution brain images in the two cases can be compared, to see which parts of the brain were activated by the stimulus. The rest of the analysis is done using a series of tools which correct distortions in the images, remove the effect of the subject moving their head during the experiment, and compare the low resolution images taken when the stimulus was off with those taken when it was on. The final statistical image shows up bright in those parts of the brain which were activated by this experiment. These activated areas are then shown as coloured blobs on top of the original high resolution scan. This image can also be rendered in 3D.

    fMRI has moderately good spatial resolution and bad temporal resolution since one fMRI frame is about 2 seconds long. However, the temporal response of the blood supply, which is the basis of fMRI, is poor relative to the electrical signals that define neuronal communication. Therefore, some research groups are working around this issue by combining fMRI with data collection techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG) or magneto encephalography (MEG), which has much higher temporal resolution but rather poorer spatial resolution.


    Positron emission tomography, also called PET imaging or a PET scan, is a diagnostic examination that involves the acquisition of physiologic images based on the detection of radiation from the emission of positrons. It is currently the most effective way to check for cancer recurrences. Positrons are tiny particles emitted from a radioactive substance administered to the patient. This radiopharmaceutical is injected to the patient and its emissions are measured by a PET scanner. A PET scanner consists of an array of detectors that surround the patient. Using the gamma ray signals given off by the injected radionuclide, PET measures the amount of metabolic activity at a site in the body and a computer reassembles the signals into images. PET's ability to measure metabolism is very useful in diagnosing Altsheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and other neurological conditions, because it can precisely illustrate areas where brain activity differs from the norm. It is also one of the most accurate methods available to localize areas of the brain causing epileptic seizures and to determine if surgery is a treatment option. PET is often used in conjunction with an MRI or CT scan through "fusion" to give a full three-dimensional view of an organ.

    3.1.3: Techniques for Assessing Brain Anatomy / Physiological Function is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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