In a recent Letter to Nature, Lee and colleagues1 combined optogenetic stimulation with functional magnetic resonance imaging (ofMRI) to examine the relationship between pyramidal-cell spiking and the blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signal. To do so, they injected an adeno-associated viral vector into the primary motor cortex (M1) of adult rats to drive the expression of channelrhodopsin (ChR2) in cortical projection neurons, thus making them sensitive to light1. The authors then used combined light stimulation and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the effects of selective activation of the light-sensitive pyramidal cells on the BOLD signal, as well as to probe the value of this methodology for mapping brain connectivity. They found that excitation of these neurons induced positive BOLD signals both in the injected M1 region and in remote target thalamic nuclei receiving direct projections from that region, and concluded that ofMRI reliably links positive BOLD signals with increased local neuronal excitation. However, their analysis neglects the almost immediate activation of other circuits that could lead to the generation of BOLD signals through local perisynaptic rather than spiking activity. Their experiments therefore do not pin down the identity of the specific neuronal signals that give rise to the BOLD signal.
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Competing financial interests: declared none.
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