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However, most methods for measuring these phenomena in the brain are very invasive.

MIT engineers have now devised a new technique to detect either electrical activity or optical signals in the brain using a minimally invasive sensor for magnetic resonance imaging MRI. MRI is often used to measure changes in blood flow that indirectly represent brain activity, but the MIT team has devised a new type of MRI sensor that can detect tiny electrical currents, as well as light produced by luminescent proteins. Electrical impulses arise from the brain's internal communications, and optical signals can be produced by a variety of molecules developed by chemists and bioengineers.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

We can implant the sensor and just leave it there. This kind of sensor could give neuroscientists a spatially accurate way to pinpoint electrical activity in the brain.

Electro-magnetic tissue properties MRI

It can also be used to measure light, and could be adapted to measure chemicals such as glucose, the researchers say. Alan Jasanoff, an MIT professor of biological engineering, brain and cognitive sciences, and nuclear science and engineering, and an associate member of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, is the senior author of the paper, which appears in the Oct. Postdocs Virginia Spanoudaki and Benjamin Bartelle are also authors of the paper. Jasanoff's lab has previously developed MRI sensors that can detect calcium and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

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In this paper, they wanted to expand their approach to detecting biophysical phenomena such as electricity and light. Currently, the most accurate way to monitor electrical activity in the brain is by inserting an electrode, which is very invasive and can cause tissue damage. Electroencephalography EEG is a noninvasive way to measure electrical activity in the brain, but this method cannot pinpoint the origin of the activity.

To create a sensor that could detect electromagnetic fields with spatial precision, the researchers realized they could use an electronic device -- specifically, a tiny radio antenna. MRI works by detecting radio waves emitted by the nuclei of hydrogen atoms in water. These signals are usually detected by a large radio antenna within an MRI scanner.

For this study, the MIT team shrank the radio antenna down to just a few millimeters in size so that it could be implanted directly into the brain to receive the radio waves generated by water in the brain tissue. The sensor is initially tuned to the same frequency as the radio waves emitted by the hydrogen atoms.

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When the sensor picks up an electromagnetic signal from the tissue, its tuning changes and the sensor no longer matches the frequency of the hydrogen atoms. When this happens, a weaker image arises when the sensor is scanned by an external MRI machine.

The researchers demonstrated that the sensors can pick up electrical signals similar to those produced by action potentials the electrical impulses fired by single neurons , or local field potentials the sum of electrical currents produced by a group of neurons. The researchers performed additional tests in rats to study whether the sensors could pick up signals in living brain tissue. For those experiments, they designed the sensors to detect light emitted by cells engineered to express the protein luciferase.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (article) | Khan Academy

Normally, luciferase's exact location cannot be determined when it is deep within the brain or other tissues, so the new sensor offers a way to expand the usefulness of luciferase and more precisely pinpoint the cells that are emitting light, the researchers say. Luciferase is commonly engineered into cells along with another gene of interest, allowing researchers to determine whether the genes have been successfully incorporated by measuring the light produced. EM simulation of a local change in the electrical conductivity. Haacke, E. Extraction of conductivity and permittivity using magnetic resonance imaging.

Physics in medicine and biology, 36 6 , Katscher, U. Recent progress and future challenges in MR electric properties tomography.

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Computational and mathematical methods in medicine, H ancu, I. On conductivity, permittivity, apparent diffusion coefficient, and their usefulness as cancer markers at MRI frequencies. Magnetic resonance in medicine, 73 5 ,