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NMR Biomed. 2007 Aug;20(5):522-45.

Current status of functional MRI on small animals: application to physiology, pathophysiology, and cognition.

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  • 1Bio-Imaging Laboratory, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium.


This review aims to make the reader aware of the potential of functional MRI (fMRI) in brain activation studies in small animal models. As small animals generally require anaesthesia for immobilization during MRI protocols, this is believed to be a serious limitation to the type of question that can be addressed with fMRI. We intend to introduce a fresh view with an in-depth overview of the surprising number of fMRI applications in a wide range of important research domains in neuroscience. These include the pathophysiology of brain functioning, the basic science of activity, and functional connectivity of different sensory circuits, including sensory brain mapping, the challenges when studying the hypothalamus as the major control centre in the central nervous system, and the limbic system as neural substrate for emotions and reward. Finally the contribution of small animal fMRI research to cognitive neuroscience is outlined. This review avoids focusing exclusively on traditional small laboratory animals such as rodents, but rather aims to broaden the scope by introducing alternative lissencephalic animal models such as songbirds and fish, as these are not yet well recognized as neuroimaging study subjects. These models are well established in many other neuroscience disciplines, and this review will show that their investigation with in vivo imaging tools will open new doors to cognitive neuroscience and the study of the autonomous nervous system in experimental animals.

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