Simulating Local Deformations in the Human Cortex Due to Blood Flow-Induced Changes in Mechanical Tissue Properties: Impact on Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Front Neurosci. 2021 Sep 21;15:722366. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2021.722366. eCollection 2021.


Investigating human brain tissue is challenging due to the complexity and the manifold interactions between structures across different scales. Increasing evidence suggests that brain function and microstructural features including biomechanical features are related. More importantly, the relationship between tissue mechanics and its influence on brain imaging results remains poorly understood. As an important example, the study of the brain tissue response to blood flow could have important theoretical and experimental consequences for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at high spatial resolutions. Computational simulations, using realistic mechanical models can predict and characterize the brain tissue behavior and give us insights into the consequent potential biases or limitations of in vivo, high-resolution fMRI. In this manuscript, we used a two dimensional biomechanical simulation of an exemplary human gyrus to investigate the relationship between mechanical tissue properties and the respective changes induced by focal blood flow changes. The model is based on the changes in the brain's stiffness and volume due to the vasodilation evoked by neural activity. Modeling an exemplary gyrus from a brain atlas we assessed the influence of different potential mechanisms: (i) a local increase in tissue stiffness (at the level of a single anatomical layer), (ii) an increase in local volume, and (iii) a combination of both effects. Our simulation results showed considerable tissue displacement because of these temporary changes in mechanical properties. We found that the local volume increase causes more deformation and consequently higher displacement of the gyrus. These displacements introduced considerable artifacts in our simulated fMRI measurements. Our results underline the necessity to consider and characterize the tissue displacement which could be responsible for fMRI artifacts.

Keywords: BOLD; VASO; biophysical modeling; blood flow; deformation; fMRI; simulation; tissue mechanics.