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J Biomed Opt. 2011 Jan-Feb;16(1):016006. doi: 10.1117/1.3533263.

Monte Carlo simulation of the spatial resolution and depth sensitivity of two-dimensional optical imaging of the brain.

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  • 1University of California, San Diego, Department of Neurosciences, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.


Absorption or fluorescence-based two-dimensional (2-D) optical imaging is widely employed in functional brain imaging. The image is a weighted sum of the real signal from the tissue at different depths. This weighting function is defined as "depth sensitivity." Characterizing depth sensitivity and spatial resolution is important to better interpret the functional imaging data. However, due to light scattering and absorption in biological tissues, our knowledge of these is incomplete. We use Monte Carlo simulations to carry out a systematic study of spatial resolution and depth sensitivity for 2-D optical imaging methods with configurations typically encountered in functional brain imaging. We found the following: (i) the spatial resolution is <200 μm for NA≤0.2 or focal plane depth≤300 μm. (ii) More than 97% of the signal comes from the top 500 μm of the tissue. (iii) For activated columns with lateral size larger than spatial resolution, changing numerical aperature (NA) and focal plane depth does not affect depth sensitivity. (iv) For either smaller columns or large columns covered by surface vessels, increasing NA and/or focal plane depth may improve depth sensitivity at deeper layers. Our results provide valuable guidance for the optimization of optical imaging systems and data interpretation.

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