Brain imaging is an important tool for clinicians in diagnosing patients who have suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Brain imaging techniques generally focus on either structure or function. With TBI, the focus is typically on the extent of structural brain damage, which is often assessed using computed tomography (CT). Structural brain scans provide information regarding the severity of TBI, which is largely determined by the extent of damage. But, what about measures of brain function?
Another brain imaging technique that has become a crucial instrument for scientists trying to learn more about how the brain works is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). fMRI allows the examination of human brain function in a way that is not invasive and, in contrast to a CT scan, does not involve radiation. With the help of math and statistics, brain mappers are able to measure brain activity patterns. But, can fMRI also be used as a diagnostic tool for TBI? Because (a) no two brain injuries are identical and (b) the way in which brain injuries affect cognition and brain function is highly variable, the current picture of fMRI use as a diagnostic tool for TBI is unclear.
Nevertheless, new tools and techniques have recently been developed that allow for the assessment of brain function in TBI, as well as other types of brain injury. Using fMRI could thereby add a whole new dimension to our understanding of TBI and TBI recovery. To get a better sense of the present state of fMRI applications with TBI, we have asked three TBI experts the following question:
Given that the utility of fMRI is still relatively undefined in the clinical realm, how do you see modern neuroimaging techniques playing a role in TBI in the future, beyond conventional scanning (CT, structural MRI)?