Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

fmri image

Advanced, state-of-the-art brain mapping technology and the highly skilled neuroscience team members at Dell Children’s Medical Center make fMRI the leading laboratory for clinicians in Central Texas, the nation and internationally.

Our multidisciplinary team of epileptologists, neuroradiologists, neurosurgeons, neuroscientists and neuropsychologists utilize this innovative technology to provide the best neurological outcomes for children.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is an imaging technique using a very strong magnet. It was developed in order to map areas of the brain that are working to perform various activities. The technology creates an image primarily showing blood flow to certain areas of the brain when those areas are more active. fMRI is considered a safe, noninvasive technique that allows for repeated examinations over time.

What Does the Child Do during an fMRI?

The fMRI is carried out using a specialized MRI scanner. The child lies on the scanner bed, a head coil is placed over the head and soft pads are put in place to help hold their head in the correct position.  Sometimes headphones and small mirrors are used to help present the different activities. The child must lie very still the entire length of the scan which, can last anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. During the scanning, the child is given various tasks to perform, such as tapping fingers, listening to stories or thinking of words. Each task typically lasts about five minutes.

What Are Clinical Uses for fMRI?

In general, fMRI helps us to identify active areas of the brain that are important for performing a particular function. Common areas of interest are typically in the left temporal and frontal lobes for speech and language, bilateral occipital lobes for vision and bilateral motor cortex for movements.

If neurosurgery is required to remove a lesion in the brain causing uncontrollable seizures or to remove a brain tumor, one goal is to avoid or minimize removal of brain tissue important to the functions described above. fMRI can be a useful non-invasive method to identify important functional areas prior to surgery.

Although fMRI can be a very useful tool, it does have limitations.  It is usually not appropriate for individuals with metal braces or metal implants, and it does require the individual to lie still and follow instructions in order to produce useful results. Some fMRI tasks can be carried out with sedation under special circumstances. If your child has needed sedation in the past for medical tests, please let us know so we can help decide the best fMRI procedure.