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Global and local fMRI signals driven by neurons defined optogenetically by type and wiring

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Despite a rapidly-growing scientific and clinical brain imaging literature based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) using blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD)1 signals, it remains controversial whether BOLD signals in a particular region can be caused by activation of local excitatory neurons2. This difficult question is central to the interpretation and utility of BOLD, with major significance for fMRI studies in basic research and clinical applications3. Using a novel integrated technology unifying optogenetic4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13 control of inputs with high-field fMRI signal readouts, we show here that specific stimulation of local CaMKIIα-expressing excitatory neurons, either in the neocortex or thalamus, elicits positive BOLD signals at the stimulus location with classical kinetics. We also show that optogenetic fMRI (ofMRI) allows visualization of the causal effects of specific cell types defined not only by genetic identity and cell body location, but also by axonal projection target. Finally, we show that ofMRI within the living and intact mammalian brain reveals BOLD signals in downstream targets distant from the stimulus, indicating that this approach can be used to map the global effects of controlling a local cell population. In this respect, unlike both conventional fMRI studies based on correlations14 and fMRI with electrical stimulation that will also directly drive afferent and nearby axons, this ofMRI approach provides causal information about the global circuits recruited by defined local neuronal activity patterns. Together these findings provide an empirical foundation for the widely-used fMRI BOLD signal, and the features of ofMRI define a potent tool that may be suitable for functional circuit analysis as well as global phenotyping of dysfunctional circuitry.

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Figure 1: ofMRI: optogenetic excitation of CaMKIIα neocortical cells drives local positive BOLD.
Figure 2: Nonlocal mapping of the causal role of cells defined by location and genetic identity.
Figure 3: Control of cells defined by location, genetic identity and wiring during ofMRI.
Figure 4: Recruitment of bilateral cortices by the anterior thalamus.

Change history

  • 10 June 2010

    Minor corrections were made to Fig. 1d and to the text of the paragraph beginning, 'To assess fMRI signals ...'


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J.H.L. is supported by NIH pathway to independence grant (K99/R00) 1K99EB008738. R.D. is supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. V.G. is supported by SGF and SIGF (Stanford Graduate Fellowships). We acknowledge G. H. Glover, J. M. Pauly and D. G. Nishimura for generous support and advice, and C. Pacharinsak for assistance with rat intubation. We would also like to thank the entire Deisseroth laboratory for discussions and support, and Lee laboratory students, V. Karasev, Z. Fang and C. Jones for help with histological quantification and fMRI data analysis. K.D. is supported by the Keck, Snyder, Woo, Yu, McKnight, and Coulter Foundations, as well as by CIRM, NIMH, NIDA and the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.H.L., F.Z., R.D., V.G. and K.D. designed the experiments. D.-S.K. provided information on the animal fMRI setup, J.H.L. developed the fMRI methods, and J.H.L. and R.D. conducted all ofMRI experiments. R.D., V.G. and F.Z. conducted animal surgery and preparation. J.H.L., L.E.F., R.D. and V.G. conducted optrode recordings. R.D., V.G. and I.G. acquired the confocal microscope images. J.H.L., R.D. and I.G. performed histology and confocal imaging for quantification. C.R. prepared the viral vectors. J.H.L., R.D., V.G., F.Z., D.-S.K. and K.D. prepared the figures and wrote the paper. K.D. supervised all aspects of the work.

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Correspondence to Jin Hyung Lee or Karl Deisseroth.

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Lee, J., Durand, R., Gradinaru, V. et al. Global and local fMRI signals driven by neurons defined optogenetically by type and wiring. Nature 465, 788–792 (2010).

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