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How to investigate neuro-biochemical relationships on a regional level in humans? Methodological considerations for combining functional with biochemical imaging

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N.W. Duncan, C. Wiebking, Z. Munoz-Torres, G. Northoff
Journal of Neuroscience Methods
October 2013

Abstract: There is an increasing interest in combining different imaging modalities to investigate the relationship between neural and biochemical activity. More specifically, imaging techniques like MRS and PET that allow for biochemical measurement are combined with techniques like fMRI and EEG that measure neural activity in different states. Such combination of neural and biochemical measures raises not only technical issues, such as merging the different data sets, but also several methodological issues. These methodological issues – ranging from hypothesis generation and hypothesis-guided use of technical facilities to target measures and experimental measures – are the focus of this paper. We discuss the various methodological problems and issues raised by the combination of different imaging methodologies in order to investigate neuro-biochemical relationships on a regional level in humans. For example, the choice of transmitter and scan type is discussed, along with approaches to allow the establishment of particular specificities (such as regional or biochemical) to in turn make results fully interpretable. An algorithm that can be used as a form of checklist for designing such multimodal studies is presented. The paper concludes that while several methodological and technical caveats needs to be overcome and addressed, multimodal imaging of the neuro-biochemical relationship provides an important tool to better understand the physiological mechanisms of the human brain.