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Combination of Two Imaging Techniques Allows New Insights into Brain Function
23 August 2013
The ability to measure brain functions non-invasively is important both
for clinical diagnoses and research in Neurology and Psychology. Two main
imaging techniques are used: positron emission tomography (PET), which reveals
metabolic processes in the brain; and activity of different brain regions is
measured on the basis of the cells’ oxygen consumption by magnetic resonance
imaging (MRI). A direct comparison of PET and MRI measurements was previously difficult because each
had to be performed in a separate machine.
Researchers from the Werner Siemens Imaging Center at the University of
Tübingen under the direction of Professor Bernd J. Pichler in collaboration
with the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, University Hospital Tübingen, and the Tübingen Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems have now successfully combined
both methods. The researchers are able to explore functional processes in the
brain in detail and can better assess what course of action to take. These
results were achieved by the use of a PET insert enabling complementary, simultaneous PET/MRI
scans. It was developed and built at the University of Tübingen.
The researchers could identify in certain regions a mismatch between glucose
metabolism related brain activation measured with PET and oxygenation related
signals, measured with MRI. Furthermore information about functional
connectivity in the brain could be derived from MRI and from dynamic PET data.
These results help to further decipher the nature of brain function, and are
ultimately useful for basic research as well as clinical practice. The study, by lead author Dr. Hans Wehrl of Professor Bernd J. Pichler’s research team is soon to be published in the journal “Nature
In PET imaging the distribution of a weakly radioactive substance is
shown in cross sections of the body, enabling doctors to see many different
metabolic and physiological functions at work. Functional MRI (fMRI) allows researchers to depict changes in blood oxygenation that are associated with brain function. This measurement
of functional active brain regions is also important for the planning of brain
surgeries, where particular care must be taken in certain areas. The ability to
collect different kinds of data from different scans simultaneously represents
a major step forward in the fields using these technologies.
This research was conducted in close cooperation with the companies Siemens and Bruker and was
supported from the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Wilhelm Schuler
Foundation and the Werner Siemens Foundation.