Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy and Its Clinical Application in the Field of Neuroscience: Advances and Future Directions

Wei-Liang Chen, Julie Wagner, Nicholas Heugel, Jeffrey Sugar, Yu-Wen Lee, Lisa Conant, Marsha Malloy, Joseph Heffernan, Brendan Quirk, Anthony Zinos, Scott A Beardsley, Robert Prost, Harry T Whelan
Frontiers in Neuroscience 2020, 14: 724
Similar to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) detects the changes of hemoglobin species inside the brain, but via differences in optical absorption. Within the near-infrared spectrum, light can penetrate biological tissues and be absorbed by chromophores, such as oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin. What makes fNIRS more advantageous is its portability and potential for long-term monitoring. This paper reviews the basic mechanisms of fNIRS and its current clinical applications, the limitations toward more widespread clinical usage of fNIRS, and current efforts to improve the temporal and spatial resolution of fNIRS toward robust clinical usage within subjects. Oligochannel fNIRS is adequate for estimating global cerebral function and it has become an important tool in the critical care setting for evaluating cerebral oxygenation and autoregulation in patients with stroke and traumatic brain injury. When it comes to a more sophisticated utilization, spatial and temporal resolution becomes critical. Multichannel NIRS has improved the spatial resolution of fNIRS for brain mapping in certain task modalities, such as language mapping. However, averaging and group analysis are currently required, limiting its clinical use for monitoring and real-time event detection in individual subjects. Advances in signal processing have moved fNIRS toward individual clinical use for detecting certain types of seizures, assessing autonomic function and cortical spreading depression. However, its lack of accuracy and precision has been the major obstacle toward more sophisticated clinical use of fNIRS. The use of high-density whole head optode arrays, precise sensor locations relative to the head, anatomical co-registration, short-distance channels, and multi-dimensional signal processing can be combined to improve the sensitivity of fNIRS and increase its use as a wide-spread clinical tool for the robust assessment of brain function.

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