Calcium is an essential signaling molecule within the cells of the human body. Also, calcium is particularly critical for neurons, and imaging calcium in brain cells can show specialists how neural cells communicate. Unfortunately, the current technology can only scan a few millimeters into the brain, but that’s going to change as an improved MRI technology can now reveal activity taking place deep in the brain.
The technology was elaborated by MIT researchers. They said that, now, MRI scans can “see” deep in the brain, imaging calcium molecules. This method, the scientists admitted, might prove useful in observing the processes that occur in the neurons of living creatures and link those with specific behaviors.
“This paper describes the first MRI-based detection of intracellular calcium signaling, which is directly analogous to powerful optical approaches used widely in neuroscience but now enables such measurements to be performed in vivo in deep tissue,” explained Alan Jasanoff from MIT.
Activity Deep In The Brain Is Finally Visible Thanks To Improved MRI Technology
“There are amazing things being done with [the present tools], but we wanted something that would allow ourselves and others to look deeper at cellular-level signaling,” Jasanoff continued.
To do that the scientists looked into MRI devices. MRI is a noninvasive technique that functions by detecting magnetic interactions between the water within the cells and a contrast agent that’s injected into the subject of a scan. The MIT researcher came up then with a reliable contrast agent formula that would help them image the calcium molecules within the neurons.
“When neurons, or other brain cells called glia, become stimulated, they often experience more than tenfold increases in calcium concentration. Our sensor can detect those changes,” Jasanoff said. “This could be useful for figuring out how different structures in the brain work together to process stimuli or coordinate behavior,” the researcher added.