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Examining Brain Function and Mapping the Brain

Examining Brain Function and Mapping the Brain

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Author: Kelly Nordstrom
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This lesson will compare and contrast the methods utilized in mapping the brain and examining brain function.

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Tutorial

What's Covered

Welcome to today's lesson on brain function and mapping the brain. Different tools and techniques are used to map the brain. It is important to examine specific people that have brain damage or certain disorders to research possible treatments. It can also be used in healthy people to compare abnormal brain maps to normal brain maps. This tutorial will specifically focus on:

  1. Assessing the Brain
  2. Computed Technology (CT)
  3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  4. Electroencephalograph (EEG)

1. ASSESSING THE BRAIN

One of the first assessments of brain function and brain disorders are the physiological and behavioral changes in a person. Since the brain controls a lot of our responses, we can assume that different kinds of responses that are abnormal might be the result of different kinds of brain damage or problems with the brain function. Now these can be very obvious and profound differences.

Stroke patients might have noticeable difficulty moving or speaking, but they can also have more subtle signs.

A neurological soft sign is a term used for minor signs of nonspecific sorts of brain disorders. And these are things that might not normally be noticed by people, but which psychologists are a bit more trained to recognize and understand as signs of neurological problems.

Term to Know

    • Neurologic Soft Signs
    • Minor signs of more non-specific brain disorders, like clumsiness or poor hand-eye coordination.

Besides noticing the outer signs or the outward behaviors that people might show as results of neurological problems, the brain structure itself can be analyzed.

There are specific tools that scientists and psychologists use to measure these kinds of things. These tools either map or model the brain out, generally in 3D.


2. COMPUTED TOMOGRAPHY (CT)

Essentially, the computed tomography (CT) is a specialized x- ray device. It takes x-rays of the brain, taking multiple images, and then creates a 3D model of the brain from those multiple images. They can show some of the internal structures just like x-rays normally do.

Here is a CT scan of the brain:

Term to Know

    • Computed Tomographic (CT) Scan
    • A specialized x-ray device that takes multiple images to create a 3D model of the brain.

3. MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI)

A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) device uses magnetic fields to provide more internal images of the structures of the brain in 3D as well. It doesn't use any kind of radiation, like an x-ray device or CT scan. In that way, it's a little bit safer for the person who's using it.

This is a tool that measures the brain's function itself, which is to say it doesn't just take a map or a picture of something, but rather shows how the brain is active over time through different sorts of behaviors. It is used to show which areas of the brain are related to certain kinds of thoughts and actions. In this way, it's a bit more comprehensive than some of the brain structure tools.

Here is an MRI of the side-view of the head. You can see the nose, lips, eye socket, brain, and lips.

On the other hand, a Functional MRI (fMRI) will show blood flow to areas over a lapsed period of time.

ExampleIf you wanted to see which areas of the brain were active when a person is dreaming, you would use a functioning tool, or fMRI.

Terms to Know

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

A device that uses magnetic field to provide images of the internal structures of the brain in 3D.

  • Functional MRI (fMRI)
  • A device like an MRI that uses magnetic field to measure blood flow to areas of the brain over time to measure how it works.

4. ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAPH (EEG)

An EEG or an electroencephalograph, is a device that's placed directly on a person's brain and therefore not very invasive, and it can help to amplify and measure all of the brain's different electrical activity in certain areas of the brain.

It can show the brain waves of specific areas of the brain, but they're very simple and they don't actually show much of a concrete image. Generally, just little lines on a piece of paper.

To actually get a picture, a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan would be used. The PET scan resembles a tunnel. An individual is injected with a radioactive fluid, called a tracer.

The image below shows liver metastases of a colorectal tumor within the abdominal region of the image.

Term to Know

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

A device that uses a radioactive fluid, usually attached to glucose, injected into a person to measure which areas of the brain are active.

Once the tracer has been injected into the blood, the individual conducts behavior or thinks about certain kinds of things. The radioactive tracer travels to those specific areas that are active. The PET scan shows where the blood flow is most prominent; they light up in the PET scan, which indicates those are the areas being used for that certain type of behavior.


Summary

This tutorial discussed why it's important to assess the brain. It's important to compare and contrast the abnormal brain with a normal brain to help research causes and treatment. The CT scan is a specialized x-ray, whereas the the MRI shows more internal structures and the fMRI will show blood flow over a period of time. An EEG is a device that's placed directly on a person's brain and can help to amplify and measure all of the brain's different electrical activity in certain areas of the brain. Lastly, a PET scan involves injecting a person with a radioactive tracer to show where blood is most prominent.

Keep up the learning and have a great day!

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Functional MRI (fMRI)

    A device like an MRI that uses magnetic field to measure blood flow to areas of the brain over time to measure how it works.

  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

    A device that uses a radioactive fluid, usually attached to glucose, injected into a person to measure which areas of the brain are active.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

    A device that uses magnetic field to provide images of the internal structures of the brain in 3D.

  • Computed Tomographic (CT) Scan

    A specialized x-ray device that takes multiple images to create a 3D model of the brain.

  • Neurologic Soft Signs

    Minor signs of more non-specific brain disorders, like clumsiness or poor hand-eye coordination.