Principles of magnetic resonance assessment of brain function

J Magn Reson Imaging. 2006 Jun;23(6):794-807. doi: 10.1002/jmri.20587.


MRI has advanced to being one of the major tools for the assessment of brain function. This review article examines the basic principles that underpin these measurements. The main emphasis is on the characteristics and detection of blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) contrast. In the first part of the article the relationship between BOLD, blood flow, blood oxygen, and the rate of metabolic consumption of oxygen is described. The four contrast mechanisms that contribute to the BOLD signal change, namely extravascular static and dynamic dephasing, intravascular T2-like changes, and the intravascular frequency offset effect are described in terms of their spatial localization and relative contributions to the BOLD signal. The current model of changes in blood flow being an indirect consequence of synaptic input to a region is presented. The second section of the article deals with the imaging characteristics of BOLD in terms of the attainable spatial resolution and linear system characteristics. In the third section, practical BOLD imaging is examined for choice of pulse sequence, resolution, echo time (TE), repetition time (TR), and flip angle. The final section touches on other MRI approaches that are relevant to cognitive neuroimaging, in particular the measurement of blood flow, blood volume, resting state fluctuations in the BOLD signal, and measures of connectivity using diffusion tensor imaging and fiber-tracking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Oxygen / metabolism*


  • Oxygen