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Water diffusion in brain cortex closely tracks underlying neuronal activity

Tsurugizawa, Tomokazu, Ciobanu, Luisa, Le Bihan, Denis
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2013 v.110 no.28 pp. 11636-11641
anesthesia, blood flow, brain, cell membranes, cortex, drugs, electrochemistry, image analysis, magnetic resonance imaging, models, nitroprusside, rats
Neuronal activity results in a local increase in blood flow. This concept serves as the basis for functional MRI. Still, this approach remains indirect and may fail in situations interfering with the neurovascular coupling mechanisms (drugs, anesthesia). Here we establish that water molecular diffusion is directly modulated by underlying neuronal activity using a rat forepaw stimulation model under different conditions of neuronal stimulation and neurovascular coupling. Under nitroprusside infusion, a neurovascular-coupling inhibitor, the diffusion response and local field potentials were maintained, whereas the hemodynamic response was abolished. As diffusion MRI reflects interactions of water molecules with obstacles (e.g., cell membranes), the observed changes point to a dynamic modulation of the neural tissue structure upon activation, which remains to be investigated. These findings represent a significant shift in concept from the current electrochemical and neurovascular coupling principles used for brain imaging, and open unique avenues to investigate mechanisms underlying brain function.