A History of fMRI

1991 was an extraordinary year in the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In the space of a few days in August – at the 10th annual meeting of the Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, in San Francisco – attendees saw two presentations that essentially introduced functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to the world. Both featured work by MGH NMR Center (now Martinos Center) researchers. First was a talk by John (Jack) Belliveau, at the time a research fellow working with Bruce Rosen. Using dynamic susceptibility contrast (DSC) MRI with a gadolinium-based Gd-DPTA contrast agent, Belliveau mapped the changes in cerebral blood volume (CBV) following neural activation in a subject responding to a simple visual stimulus. His results represented the first unambiguous images of human brain activity changes observed with MR, an achievement for which he was awarded the society’s Young Investigator Award that year.

A few days later, during a keynote address entitled “Future Prospects for MR Imaging,” Thomas Brady, then Director of the MGH NMR Center, presented a video acquired by postdoctoral fellow Kenneth Kwong. Kwong’s video demonstrated MRI detection of brain activation based on changes in deoxyhemoglobin concentration, and thus anticipated the importance of blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) contrast for functional imaging. This fundamental work combining dynamic imaging and endogenous contrast was a crucial step in the development of fMRI. The 1991 SMRM meeting proved a watershed moment for magnetic resonance imaging. Prior to the landmark presentations of Belliveau's and Kwong’s studies, relatively few saw the potential of MRI for functional imaging. Together with the work of other groups who published complementary findings at the time, the work presented at this meeting ushered in the era of functional MRI and thus a revolution in the neuroimaging field.

Has fMRI changed the world?

Use of functional MRI has led to remarkable discoveries in biomedical research in the years since its discovery. In 2011, during the Lauterbur Lecture at that year's ISMRM meeting, Bruce Rosen spoke about the history of the technique and whether and how it has changed the world in the past two decades.

Bruce Rosen
"fMRI at 20: Has it Changed the World?"
ISMRM 2011, Lauterbur Lecture