Validating layer-specific VASO across species

Neuroimage. 2021 May 24;237:118195. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118195. Online ahead of print.


Cerebral blood volume (CBV) has been shown to be a robust and important physiological parameter for quantitative interpretation of functional (f)MRI, capable of delivering highly localized mapping of neural activity. Indeed, with recent advances in ultra-high-field (≥7T) MRI hardware and associated sequence libraries, it has become possible to capture non-invasive CBV weighted fMRI signals across cortical layers. One of the most widely used approaches to achieve this (in humans) is through vascular-space-occupancy (VASO) fMRI. Unfortunately, the exact contrast mechanisms of layer-dependent VASO fMRI have not been validated for human fMRI and thus interpretation of such data is confounded. Here we validate the signal source of layer-dependent SS-SI VASO fMRI using multi-modal imaging in a rat model in response to neuronal activation (somatosensory cortex) and respiratory challenge (hypercapnia). In particular VASO derived CBV measures are directly compared to concurrent measures of total haemoglobin changes from high resolution intrinsic optical imaging spectroscopy (OIS). Quantified cortical layer profiling is demonstrated to be in agreement between VASO and contrast enhanced fMRI (using monocrystalline iron oxide nanoparticles, MION). Responses show high spatial localisation to layers of cortical processing independent of confounding large draining veins which can hamper BOLD fMRI studies, (depending on slice positioning). Thus, a cross species comparison is enabled using VASO as a common measure. We find increased VASO based CBV reactivity (3.1 ± 1.2 fold increase) in humans compared to rats. Together, our findings confirm that the VASO contrast is indeed a reliable estimate of layer-specific CBV changes. This validation study increases the neuronal interpretability of human layer-dependent VASO fMRI as an appropriate method in neuroscience application studies, in which the presence of large draining intracortical and pial veins limits neuroscientific inference with BOLD fMRI.

Keywords: Cerebral blood volume; Concurrent imaging; Depth-dependent fMRI; Draining vein; Laminar; Layer; MION; Optical imaging spectroscopy; Pre-clinical; Somatosensory stimulation; Sub-millimetre; VASO.; fMRI.