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J Physiol Paris. 2004 Jul-Nov;98(4-6):357-73. Epub 2005 Nov 10.

Self-regulation of local brain activity using real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

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Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, Germany.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal related to neuronal activity. So far, this technique has been limited by time-consuming data analysis impeding on-line analysis. In particular, no brain-computer interface (BCI) was available which provided on-line feedback to learn physiological self-regulation of the BOLD signal. Recently, studies have shown that fMRI feedback is feasible and facilitates voluntary control of brain activity. Here we review these studies to make the fMRI feedback methodology accessible to a broader scientific community such as researchers concerned with functional brain imaging and the neurobiology of learning. Methodological and conceptual limitations were substantially reduced by artefact control, sensitivity improvements, real-time algorithms, and adapted experimental designs. Physiological self-regulation of the local BOLD response is a new paradigm for cognitive neuroscience to study brain plasticity and the functional relevance of regulated brain areas by modification of behaviour. Voluntary control of abnormal activity in circumscribed brain areas may even be applied as psychophysiological treatment.

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