Functional ultrasound imaging of brain-wide activity

New method will help to unravel brain functions at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution

October 19, 2020

A team of scientists from the Neuro-Electronics Research Flanders developed and tested, in cooperation with scientists from the MPI of Neurobiology, a new volumetric functional ultrasound imaging platform. The ease of use, reliability, and affordability of the technology make it an excellent candidate for driving future brain-wide neuroimaging research.

Ultrasound is used to image soft tissue or organs, such as the heart, lungs and bladder, in real time. It is routinely used in hospitals because it is both safe and affordable. Over the past ten years, scientists at the Urban Lab (NERF, empowered by imec, KU Leuven and VIB) have contributed to the development of innovative brain ultrasound hardware and software solutions in collaboration with several academic and industrial partners.

Using functional ultrasound imaging (fUSI) they have succeeded to visualize neural activity by mapping local changes in cerebral blood flow. Initially, however, fUSI was restricted to cross-sectional 2D imaging within a small field of view, which meant that visualization of brain-wide activity remained a challenge.

A versatile imaging platform

“We wanted not only to release the most advanced functional ultrasound imaging platform for neuroscience research, but also to simplify its integration into routine experiment,” says dr. Clément Brunner, a postdoc in the Urban lab.

“Now, for the first time, it is possible to quickly gain access to the spatiotemporal dynamics of brain-wide activity during behavior, directly at the bench,” says dr. Micheline Grillet, another postdoc in the lab.

In collaboration with researchers from the laboratory of prof. Karl Farrow (also at NERF) and with dr. Emilie Mace from the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Germany, the team was able to validate volumetric fUSI in a wide range of settings.

Ready for the clinics

“We believe volumetric fUSI will become a key neuroimaging technology, not only for researchers, but also for clinicians,” says prof. Alan Urban, who led the study.

While monitoring of newborns and adults with critical neurologic conditions has expanded significantly over several decades, existing technologies still suffer from a range of drawback. Urban is optimistic about implementation of volumetric fUSI: “Our preliminary data demonstrate the applicability and disruptive innovation in the fields of neuromonitoring and image-guided surgery. In 2021, we will start to evaluate the technology in the clinics at UZ Leuven.”


This text corresponds to a press release by the Neuro-Electronics Research Flanders (NERF).

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