Revolutionary MRI technology provides the sharpest images of a mouse brain ever captured

MRI is a useful tool for visualizing soft tissue that is difficult to image with X-rays. However, current MRI resolution is not sufficient to visualize microscopic details within the brain. A team of researchers from Duke’s Center for In Vivo Microscopy, along with colleagues from several other universities, have developed an improved MRI that captures the sharpest images ever taken of a mouse brain. The images are dramatically crisper than a typical clinical MRI for humans, with a single voxel measuring just 5 microns, which is 64 million times smaller than a clinical MRI voxel.

While the researchers focused on mice, their new MRI provides an important way to visualize the connectivity of the entire brain at record-breaking resolution, which will lead to a better understanding of conditions in humans such as how the brain changes with age, diet, or neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Duke MRI images entire mouse brain at resolution 64 million times better than clinical MRI, offering hope of understanding Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. Credit: Duke Center for In Vivo Microscopy

The team’s new work, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the culmination of nearly 40 years of research at the Duke Center for In Vivo Microscopy. The key elements that made the revolutionary MRI resolution possible include an incredibly powerful magnet, special gradient coils, and a high-performance computer equivalent to nearly 800 laptops.

A super-powerful MRI merged with light-sheet microscopy allows researchers to create a high-definition wiring diagram of the entire brain in mice. Credit: Duke Center for In Vivo Microscopy

After scanning the tissue, the team uses light sheet microscopy to label specific groups of cells across the brain, such as dopamine-issuing cells, to watch the progression of Parkinson’s disease. They then map the light sheet pictures onto the original MRI scan, which provides a vivid view of cells and circuits throughout the entire brain.

With this combined whole brain data imagery, researchers can now peer into the microscopic mysteries of the brain in ways never possible before. The hope is that this higher-powered MRI will lead to a better understanding of human diseases such as Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and others, and improve our knowledge of brain function and changes with age, diet, and disease.

Source: Duke University

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