Recent advances in BOLD fMRI scan techniques have substantially improved spatial and temporal resolution, currently reaching to sub-millimeter and sub-second levels respectively. Unfortunately, there remain physiological barriers that prevent achieving this resolution in practice. BOLD contrast relies on the hemodynamic response to neuronal activity, whose associated cerebral blood oxygenation (CBO) changes may spread over several millimeters and last several seconds. Recent reports have suggested that significant improvements may be possible with cerebral blood volume (CBV)-weighted fMRI, which highlights the CBV changes rather than the BOLD changes associated with the hemodynamic response. Nevertheless, quantitative comparisons between CBV and BOLD are sparse, in particular regarding their temporal characteristics in human brain.
To address this, we studied a cohort of subjects that received injection of ferumoxytol, an intravascular iron-oxide based contrast agent that introduces strong CBV contrast. An event-related visual stimulus paradigm was used to compare the impulse response (IR) for CBV and BOLD contrast, obtained with and without ferumoxytol, respectively. Experiments performed at 7T (n=5) at 1.2–1.5mm spatial and 1s temporal resolution showed that the onset time and time-to-peak of the CBV IR averaged 0.8 and 3.5s respectively, both 0.6s shorter than the BOLD IR. While significant, these improvements are relatively small and not expected to lead to practical advantages for the extraction of temporal information about neural activity.
Nonlinearities in the observed IR were also compared and found to be similar between the CBV and BOLD, indicating that these are likely not caused by a ‘ceiling’ effect in the CBO response, but rather support a previously proposed model of vascular compliance, in which changes in vascular tone elicited by a preceding stimulus affect the IR.