fMRI revolutionized neuroscience by allowing in vivo real-Time detection of human brain activity. While the nature of the fMRI signal is understood as resulting from variations in the MRI signal due to brain-Activity-induced changes in the blood oxygenation level (BOLD effect), these variations constitute a very minor part of a baseline MRI signal. Hence, the fundamental (and not addressed) questions are how underlying brain cellular composition defines this baseline MRI signal and how a baseline MRI signal relates to fMRI. Herein we investigate these questions by using a multimodality approach that includes quantitative gradient recalled echo (qGRE), volumetric and functional connectivity MRI, and gene expression data from the Allen Human Brain Atlas. We demonstrate that in vivo measurement of the major baseline component of a GRE signal decay rate parameter (R2t∗) provides a unique genetic perspective into the cellular constituents of the human cortex and serves as a previously unidentified link between cortical tissue composition and fMRI signal. Data show that areas of the brain cortex characterized by higher R2t∗ have high neuronal density and have stronger functional connections to other brain areas. Interestingly, these areas have a relatively smaller concentration of synapses and glial cells, suggesting that myelinated cortical axons are likely key cortical structures that contribute to functional connectivity. Given these associations, R2t∗ is expected to be a useful signal in assessing microstructural changes in the human brain during development and aging in health and disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E9727-E9736
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 9 2018


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