What’s behind an fMRI signal?

Published in Protocols & Methods

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In this month’s editorial we discuss the importance of gaining a deeper understanding of the signals underlying fMRI technology.

Despite the increased interest in this technology and the huge investments, we know very little about the underlying biology that produces these signals. This lack of understanding limits the type of information that can be obtained from this methodology and its utility to help us understand how our brains work.

We discuss new technological developments that might help address this question, including a research article by Dr. Helmchen and colleagues in this issue.

Dialogs between neuroimagers and cellular neurobiologists are critical to solve this question, as has been discussed before and funding institutions should give a higher priority to projects focused on gaining a deeper understanding of these complex signals.

Using the NIH RePORTER database we performed a search based on the following terms: ‘functional magnetic resonance imaging’ and ‘brain imaging’. We restricted the search to active projects starting on 1 January 2010 and we screened through the list of projects to remove those that were related to MRI but not fMRI. We then added up the total cost of all projects in the curated list. The number that we present in the piece is approximate and has not been scrutinized in detail. This way, we came up with the approximate amount of money that the US National Institute of Health has spent over different time periods in the last years. 

An exponential increase in scientific publications based on fMRI research has also been observed over the last years.

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