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MRI Can Peek Back Into A Brain’s Recent Past

June 25, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Medical Ethics, Neuroradiology
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OK, it probably doesn’t mean you could be involuntarily interrogated via brain scan, but there’s still something creepy about the announcement that certain brain waves retain the imprint of earlier brain activities for at least 24 hours.

When a person is inactive with no visual stimuli, slow “resting” waves travel through the brain’s cortex in complex but symmetrical patterns. Because new experiences can change and strengthen links between brain cells, Israeli researchers wondered whether the resting waves might reflect those changed links.

Study volunteers underwent a 30-minute training exercise designed to activate a specific network of cells in the frontal lobes. The subjects were asked to imagine a situation in which they had to make rapid decisions. They received auditory feedback based on real-time information obtained from the frontal lobes, further activating the network. The subjects received functional MRI scans during the exercise and while at rest before, immediately after, and 24 hours after the exercise.

The researchers found that the activation of specific cortical areas did indeed change the resting brain patterns. After 24 hours, the changes had not only persisted but also significantly strengthened.

Rafael Malach, PhD, senior editor of an article about the study that was published May 29 in The Journal of Neurosciencecommented:

Today, we are discovering more and more of the common principles of brain activity, but we have not been able to account for the differences between individuals. In the future, spontaneous brain patterns could be the key to obtaining unbiased individual profiles.

Dr. Malach, professor of brain research at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, was quoted in a Weizmann news release.

The researchers suggest that peeking into the past via resting brain patterns could help diagnose pathologies associated with cognitive disabilities, or pinpoint recent cognitive events that may be related to some disorder or brain injury. Or, the news release suggests, “each person’s unique spontaneously emerging activity patterns might eventually reveal a sort of personal profile—highlighting each individual’s abilities, shortcomings, biases, learning skills, etc.”

Yikes. What uses could be made of that profile?

  • “Sorry, but your resting wave profile indicates that you don’t have the learning skills necessary for this job.”
  • “As your school guidance counselor, I need to inform you that, based on your resting wave profile, we have placed you in the trade-school track, not the university-bound track.”
  • “Look, you seem nice and all, but your resting wave profile just isn’t compatible with mine, so I don’t see any point in going out with you.”
  • “You claim that you haven’t seen the victim in a week, but we know you were with her last night. It’s right here in your resting wave profile! Come on, the judge’ll go easier on you if you confess.”

Maybe we’re just being paranoid. And, yes, we realize that a tendency toward paranoia would probably show up in the profile too.

Related CME seminar (up to 42.5 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Radiology Review: COMPREHENSIVE IMAGING


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