Measuring brain beats: Cardiac-aligned fast functional magnetic resonance imaging signals

Dora Hermes, Hua Wu, Adam B. Kerr, Brian A. Wandell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pulse and flow throughout the brain, driven by the cardiac cycle. These fluid dynamics, which are essential to healthy brain function, are characterized by several noninvasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods. Recent developments in fast MRI, specifically simultaneous multislice acquisition methods, provide a new opportunity to rapidly and broadly assess cardiac-driven flow, including CSF spaces, surface vessels and parenchymal vessels. We use these techniques to assess blood and CSF flow dynamics in brief (3.5 min) scans on a conventional 3 T MRI scanner in five subjects. Cardiac pulses are measured with a photoplethysmography (PPG) on the index finger, along with functional MRI (fMRI) signals in the brain. We, retrospectively, align the fMRI signals to the heartbeat. Highly reliable cardiac-gated fMRI temporal signals are observed in CSF and blood on the timescale of one heartbeat (test–retest reliability within subjects R2 > 50%). In blood vessels, a local minimum is observed following systole. In CSF spaces, the ventricles and subarachnoid spaces have a local maximum following systole instead. Slower resting-state scans with slice timing, retrospectively, aligned to the cardiac pulse, reveal similar cardiac-gated responses. The cardiac-gated measurements estimate the amplitude and phase of fMRI pulsations in the CSF relative to those in the arteries, an estimate of the local intracranial impedance. Cardiac aligned fMRI signals can provide new insights about fluid dynamics or diagnostics for diseases where these dynamics are important.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)280-294
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • CSF
  • SMS
  • cardiac
  • fMRI
  • vasculature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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