Neuroimaging Techniques: Visualising the Living Brain

🕒 Approximate reading time: 4 minutes

Neuroimaging techniques have opened the door to the brain, allowing us to visualise its structure and function in unprecedented detail. These technologies have transformed neuroscience, enabling us to explore the brain in health and disease, and providing insights that extend from the level of individual neurons to complex neural circuits.

Basics of Neuroimaging

Neuroimaging refers to the use of various techniques to directly or indirectly image the structure, function, or pharmacology of the nervous system. It is a relatively new discipline within medicine and neuroscience, and combines various technologies to visualise the nervous system in real time.

Structural and Functional Neuroimaging

Structural neuroimaging provides information about the anatomical structure of the brain, allowing us to visualise different brain areas and detect any structural changes or abnormalities. Techniques include computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

Functional neuroimaging, on the other hand, provides information about brain activity, letting us see which brain areas are active during different tasks or mental states. These techniques include functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and electroencephalography (EEG).

Applications of Neuroimaging in Neuroscience

  1. Understanding Brain Function: Neuroimaging allows us to identify which brain areas are involved in different cognitive processes, such as memory, attention, or emotion.

  2. Diagnosing Brain Disorders: Neuroimaging can be used to identify structural or functional abnormalities in the brain associated with disorders such as stroke, tumours, or neurodegenerative diseases.

  3. Tracking Disease Progression: In diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, neuroimaging can help track the progression of the disease and the effects of therapeutic interventions.

Neuroimaging in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Neuroimaging has become an essential tool in studying neurodegenerative diseases:

  1. Detecting Early Changes: For example, structural MRI can detect brain shrinkage in early stages of Alzheimer's disease, before symptoms appear.

  2. Understanding Disease Mechanisms: Functional imaging can help reveal how neurodegenerative diseases alter brain activity.

  3. Evaluating Treatments: Neuroimaging can be used to track how experimental treatments affect the brain, providing important information for drug development.


Neuroimaging has revolutionised our ability to visualise the living brain, deepening our understanding of brain function and disease. As these technologies continue to advance, they will undoubtedly continue to illuminate the complexities of the brain in increasingly sophisticated ways.