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Magn Reson Imaging. 2007 Jul;25(6):989-1003. Epub 2007 Apr 23.

Real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging: methods and applications.

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  • 1Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, Institute of Neurology, University College London, WC1N 3BG London, UK.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been limited by time-consuming data analysis and a low signal-to-noise ratio, impeding online analysis. Recent advances in acquisition techniques, computational power and algorithms increased the sensitivity and speed of fMRI significantly, making real-time analysis and display of fMRI data feasible. So far, most reports have focused on the technical aspects of real-time fMRI (rtfMRI). Here, we provide an overview of the different major areas of applications that became possible with rtfMRI: online analysis of single-subject data provides immediate quality assurance and functional localizers guiding the main fMRI experiment or surgical interventions. In teaching, rtfMRI naturally combines all essential parts of a neuroimaging experiment, such as experimental design, data acquisition and analysis, while adding a high level of interactivity. Thus, the learning of essential knowledge required to conduct functional imaging experiments is facilitated. rtfMRI allows for brain-computer interfaces (BCI) with a high spatial and temporal resolution and whole-brain coverage. Recent studies have shown that such BCI can be used to provide online feedback of the blood-oxygen-level-dependent signal and to learn the self-regulation of local brain activity. Preliminary evidence suggests that this local self-regulation can be used as a new paradigm in cognitive neuroscience to study brain plasticity and the functional relevance of brain areas, even being potentially applicable for psychophysiological treatment.

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