Laminar fMRI at ultra-high magnetic field strength is typically carried out using the Blood Oxygenation Level-Dependent (BOLD) contrast. Despite its unrivalled sensitivity to detecting activation, the BOLD contrast is limited in its spatial specificity due to signals stemming from intra-cortical ascending and pial veins. Alternatively, regional changes in perfusion (i.e., cerebral blood flow through tissue) are colocalised to neuronal activation, which can be non-invasively measured using arterial spin labelling (ASL) MRI. In addition, ASL provides a quantitative marker of neuronal activation in terms of perfusion signal, which is simultaneously acquired along with the BOLD signal. However, ASL for laminar imaging is challenging due to the lower SNR of the perfusion signal and higher RF power deposition i.e., specific absorption rate (SAR) of ASL sequences. In the present study, we present for the first time in humans, isotropic sub-millimetre spatial resolution functional perfusion images using Flow-sensitive Alternating Inversion Recovery (FAIR) ASL with a 3D-EPI readout at 7T. We show that robust statistical activation maps can be obtained with perfusion-weighting in a single session. We observed the characteristic BOLD amplitude increase towards the superficial laminae, and, in apparent discrepancy, the relative perfusion profile shows a decrease of the amplitude and the absolute perfusion profile a much smaller increase towards the cortical surface. Considering the draining vein effect on the BOLD signal using model-based spatial ‘convolution’, we show that the empirically measured perfusion and BOLD profiles are, in fact, consistent with each other. This study demonstrates that laminar perfusion fMRI in humans is feasible at 7T and that caution must be exercised when interpreting BOLD signal laminar profiles as direct representation of the cortical distribution of neuronal activity.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience