Behavioral and cognitive tests in individuals who were malnourished as children have revealed malnutrition-related deficits that persist throughout the lifespan. These findings have motivated recent neuroimaging investigations that use highly portable functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) instruments to meet the demands of brain imaging experiments in low-resource environments and enable longitudinal investigations of brain function in the context of long-term malnutrition. However, recent studies in healthy subjects have demonstrated that high-density diffuse optical tomography (HD-DOT) can significantly improve image quality over that obtained with sparse fNIRS imaging arrays. In studies of both task activations and resting state functional connectivity, HD-DOT is beginning to approach the data quality of fMRI for superficial cortical regions. In this work, we developed a customized HD-DOT system for use in malnutrition studies in Cali, Colombia. Our results evaluate the performance of the HD-DOT instrument for assessing brain function in a cohort of malnourished children. In addition to demonstrating portability and wearability, we show the HD-DOT instrument's sensitivity to distributed brain responses using a sensory processing task and measurements of homotopic functional connectivity. Task-evoked responses to the passive word listening task produce activations localized to bilateral superior temporal gyrus, replicating previously published work using this paradigm. Evaluating this localization performance across sparse and dense reconstruction schemes indicates that greater localization consistency is associated with a dense array of overlapping optical measurements. These results provide a foundation for additional avenues of investigation, including identifying and characterizing a child's individual malnutrition burden and eventually contributing to intervention development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116541
StatePublished - Jul 15 2020


  • Functional connectivity
  • Functional near-infrared spectroscopy
  • High-density diffuse optical tomography
  • Malnutrition
  • Optical neuroimaging
  • Portable neuroimaging
  • Task-evoked responses


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