Functional near-infrared optical imaging: utility and limitations in human brain mapping

Psychophysiology. 2003 Jul;40(4):511-20. doi: 10.1111/1469-8986.00053.


Although near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) was developed as a tool for clinical monitoring of tissue oxygenation, it also has potential for neuroimaging. A wide range of different NIRS instruments have been developed, and instruments for continuous intensity measurements with fixed spacing [continuous wave (CW)-type instruments], which are most readily available commercially, allow us to see dynamic changes in regional cerebral blood flow in real time. However, quantification, which is necessary for imaging of brain functions, is impossible with these CW-type instruments. Over the past 20 years, many different approaches to quantification have been tried, and several multichannel time-resolved and frequency-domain instruments are now in common use for imaging. Although there are still many problems with this technique, such as incomplete knowledge of how light propagates through the head, NIRS will not only open a window on brain physiology for subjects who have rarely been examined until now, but also provide a new direction for functional mapping studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Oxyhemoglobins / metabolism
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared*


  • Oxyhemoglobins