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NMR Biomed. 2004 Dec;17(8):602-12.

Applications of manganese-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MEMRI) to image brain plasticity in song birds.

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Bio-Imaging Laboratory, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Antwerp, Campus Middelheim, Groenenborgerlaan 171, 2020 Antwerp, Belgium.


The song control system of song birds is an excellent model for studying brain plasticity and has thus far been extensively analyzed by histological and electrophysiological methods. However, these approaches do not provide a global view of the brain and/or do not allow repeated measures, which are necessary to establish correlations between alterations in neural substrate and behavior. Application of in vivo manganese-enhanced MRI enabled us for the first time to visualize the song control system repeatedly in the same bird, making it possible to quantify dynamically the volume changes in this circuit as a function of seasonal and hormonal influences. In this review, we introduce and explore the song control system of song birds as a natural model for brain plasticity to validate a new cutting edge technique, which we called 'repeated dynamic manganese enhanced MRI' or D-MEMRI. This technique is based on the use of implanted permanent cannulae--for accurate repeated manganese injections in a defined target area--and the subsequent MRI acquisition of the dynamics of the accumulation of manganese in projection brain targets. A compilation of the D-MEMRI data obtained thus far in this system demonstrates the usefulness of this new method for studying brain plasticity. In particular it is shown to be a perfect tool for long-term studies of morphological and functional responses of specific brain circuits to changes in endocrine conditions. The method was also successfully applied to obtain quantitative measures of changes in activity as a function of auditory stimuli in different neuronal populations of a same nucleus that project to different targets. D-MEMRI, combined with other MRI techniques, clearly harbors potential for unraveling seasonal, hormonal, pharmacological or even genetically driven changes in a neuronal circuit, by simultaneously measuring changes in morphology, activity and connectivity.

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