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Front Neurosci. 2014 Jun 11;8:139. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2014.00139. eCollection 2014.

Variability of the coupling of blood flow and oxygen metabolism responses in the brain: a problem for interpreting BOLD studies but potentially a new window on the underlying neural activity.

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Department of Radiology, Center for Functional MRI, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA.
Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, Montreal Neurological Institute Brain Imaging Centre, McGill University, Montreal QC, Canada.

Erratum in

  • Front Neurosci. 2014 Sep;8:241. Shmuel, Amir [added].


Recent studies from our group and others using quantitative fMRI methods have found that variations of the coupling ratio of blood flow (CBF) and oxygen metabolism (CMRO2) responses to a stimulus have a strong effect on the BOLD response. Across a number of studies an empirical pattern is emerging in the way CBF and CMRO2 changes are coupled to neural activation: if the stimulus is modulated to create a stronger response (e.g., increasing stimulus contrast), CBF is modulated more than CMRO2; on the other hand, if the brain state is altered such that the response to the same stimulus is increased (e.g., modulating attention, adaptation, or excitability), CMRO2 is modulated more than CBF. Because CBF and CMRO2 changes conflict in producing BOLD signal changes, this finding has an important implication for conventional BOLD-fMRI studies: the BOLD response exaggerates the effects of stimulus variation but is only weakly sensitive to modulations of the brain state that alter the response to a standard stimulus. A speculative hypothesis is that variability of the coupling ratio of the CBF and CMRO2 responses reflects different proportions of inhibitory and excitatory evoked activity, potentially providing a new window on neural activity in the human brain.


blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD); cerebral blood flow (CBF); cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen (CMRO2); functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); inhibitory/excitatory neural activity

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