The 'wet mind': water and functional neuroimaging

Phys Med Biol. 2007 Apr 7;52(7):R57-90. doi: 10.1088/0031-9155/52/7/R02. Epub 2007 Mar 9.


Functional neuroimaging has emerged as an important approach to study the brain and the mind. Surprisingly, although they are based on radically different physical approaches both positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) make brain activation imaging possible through measurements involving water molecules. So far, PET and MRI functional imaging have relied on the principle that neuronal activation and blood flow are coupled through metabolism. However, a new paradigm has emerged to look at brain activity through the observation with MRI of the molecular diffusion of water. In contrast with the former approaches diffusion MRI has the potential to reveal changes in the intrinsic water physical properties during brain activation, which could be more intimately linked to the neuronal activation mechanisms and lead to an improved spatial and temporal resolution. However, this link has yet to be fully confirmed and understood. To shed light on the possible relationship between water and brain activation, this introductory paper reviews the most recent data on the physical properties of water and on the status of water in biological tissues, and evaluates their relevance to brain diffusion MRI. The biophysical mechanisms of brain activation are then reassessed to reveal their intimacy with the physical properties of water, which may come to be regarded as the 'molecule of the mind'.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biophysics / methods
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Diffusion
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Chemical
  • Models, Molecular
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*
  • Software
  • Stroke / pathology
  • Water / chemistry
  • Water / metabolism*


  • Water