Are brain currents detectable by means of low-field NMR? A phantom study

Magn Reson Imaging. 2011 Dec;29(10):1365-73. doi: 10.1016/j.mri.2011.07.009. Epub 2011 Sep 9.


A number of different methods have been developed in order to detect the spreading of neuronal currents by means of noninvasive imaging techniques. However, all of these are subjected to limitations in the temporal or spatial resolution. A new approach of neuronal current detection is based on the use of low-field nuclear magnetic resonance (LF-NMR) that records brain activity directly. In the following, we describe a phantom study in order to assess the feasibility of neuronal current detection using LF-NMR. In addition to that, necessary preliminary subject studies examining somatosensory evoked neuronal currents are presented. During the phantom study, the influences of two different neuronal time signals on (1)H-NMR signals were observed. The measurements were carried out by using a head phantom with an integrated current dipole to simulate neuronal activity. Two LF-NMR methods based on a DC and an AC (resonant) mechanism were utilized to study the feasibility of detecting both types of magnetic brain signals. Measurements were made inside an extremely magnetically shielded room by using a superconducting quantum interference device magnetometer system. The measurement principles were validated applying currents of higher intensity than those typical of the neuronal currents. Through stepwise reduction of the amplitude of the current dipole strength, the resolution limits of the two measuring procedures were found. The results indicate that it is necessary to improve the signal-to-noise ratio of the measurement system by at least a factor of 38 in order to detect typical human neuronal activity directly by means of LF-NMR. In addition to that, ways of achieving this factor are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / instrumentation
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Phantoms, Imaging
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity