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Anticipatory haemodynamic signals in sensory cortex not predicted by local neuronal activity

Nature volume 457, pages 475479 (22 January 2009) | Download Citation

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Haemodynamic signals underlying functional brain imaging (for example, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)) are assumed to reflect metabolic demand generated by local neuronal activity, with equal increases in haemodynamic signal implying equal increases in the underlying neuronal activity1,2,3,4,5,6. Few studies have compared neuronal and haemodynamic signals in alert animals7,8 to test for this assumed correspondence. Here we present evidence that brings this assumption into question. Using a dual-wavelength optical imaging technique9 that independently measures cerebral blood volume and oxygenation, continuously, in alert behaving monkeys, we find two distinct components to the haemodynamic signal in the alert animals’ primary visual cortex (V1). One component is reliably predictable from neuronal responses generated by visual input. The other component—of almost comparable strength—is a hitherto unknown signal that entrains to task structure independently of visual input or of standard neural predictors of haemodynamics. This latter component shows predictive timing, with increases of cerebral blood volume in anticipation of trial onsets even in darkness. This trial-locked haemodynamic signal could be due to an accompanying V1 arterial pumping mechanism, closely matched in time, with peaks of arterial dilation entrained to predicted trial onsets. These findings (tested in two animals) challenge the current understanding of the link between brain haemodynamics and local neuronal activity. They also suggest the existence of a novel preparatory mechanism in the brain that brings additional arterial blood to cortex in anticipation of expected tasks.

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  • 05 February 2009

    The HTML version of this paper contained an error in the publication date. This has now been corrected.


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We thank: K. Korinek for designing and fabricating much of the dual-wavelength optical imaging hardware; P. P. Mitra for the suggestion of making continuous recordings and the use of the Chronux analysis software; E. M. C. Hillman for insights into brain haemodynamic mechanisms; C. Ma, G. Cantone, J. Ordinario, E. Glushenkova, W. Zhang, and M. Bucklin for help with recordings; E. Seidemann and R. Siegel for technical help during our initial setup; C. D. Gilbert and members of the Mahoney Center and the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia University for comments on the manuscript. The work was supported by the Keck foundation, grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Klingenstein Foundation, the Gatsby Initiative in Brain Circuitry and the Dana Foundation to A.D. and a National Research Service Award to Y.B.S.

Author Contributions The two co-authors collaborated on almost every aspect of this work.

Author information


  1. Department of Neuroscience,

    • Yevgeniy B. Sirotin
    •  & Aniruddha Das
  2. Department of Psychiatry,

    • Aniruddha Das
  3. W. M. Keck Center on Brain Plasticity and Cognition,

    • Aniruddha Das
  4. Mahoney Center for Brain and Behavior,

    • Aniruddha Das
  5. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Aniruddha Das
  6. New York State Psychiatric Institute, 1051 Riverside Drive, Unit 87, New York, New York 10032, USA

    • Aniruddha Das


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aniruddha Das.

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Figures S1-S13 with Legends and Supplementary Table S1


  1. 1.

    Supplementary Movie

    Supplementary Movie 1 shows high magnification optical images of the trial-linked vascular signal in V1, over the course of one 18.7-sec trial. Left panel: 605 nm. Right panel: 530 nm. Coloured traces show time course of mean signal at each wavelength, with moving cursor indicating phase of currently displayed images. Inset square in upper left shows fixation phase (white: fixate; black: intertrial interval. Time after trial onset, in sec.).

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