Understanding the normal and diseased human brain crucially depends on reliable knowledge of its anatomical microstructure and functional micro-organization. Even subtle changes at the microscopic level can cause debilitating diseases. To resolve the microstructure and its changes in health and disease, unprecedented spatial resolution, minimal artifact levels and high tissue specificity of the imaging are essential. To address these methodological challenges, the MR-Methods group pursues an interdisciplinary approach, developing novel MRI and fMRI acquisition methods, image reconstruction and processing techniques.

Advanced MR Reconstruction

Gillad Liberman, Deni Kurban, Dimo Ivanov, Benedikt Poser

Advanced MRI scanning at high fields comes along with multiple challenges: geometric distortions, noise amplification with parallel imaging methods (GRAPPA, SMS), spatio-temporal field instabilities, echo-time constraints, signal blurring, and many others. Many of these challenges can be addressed with advanced readout trajectory modifications and corresponding modifications in the image reconstruction. The MR-Methods group is working on multiple of those advanced reconstitution methods:

  • Alteration of GRAPPA reference line acquisition order from segmented EPI to FLASH and FLEET approaches has been proven to provide superior insensitivity of field perturbations. As such, the MR-Methods group is investigating the optimal GRAPPA reconstruction parameter space in ASL, VASO and BOLD fMRI.
  • Spiral trajectories can be beneficial for BOLD and non-BOLD fMRI due to their TE-flexibility and efficient acceleration capabilities. However, their reconstruction is computational expensive and requires the knowledge of the exact gradient wave forms. The the MR-Methods group is working on more efficient reconstruction methods by employing Minimal Neural Networks and Skope field cameras.

Example trajectory of an SMS-spiral readout with intermediate blips


Renzo Huber, Sri Kashyap, Dimo Ivanov, Benedikt Poser

In recent years, there have been several highly publicized studies showing the value of high-field (7 Tesla), high-resolution (functional) MRI for human neuroscience. With recent advancements, high-field (f)MRI allows researchers to approach the spatial scale of cortical layers and cortical columns. This revolutionizes the ability to tackle cortical information processing at the mesoscale (< 1mm), closing the gap with invasive animal electrophysiology. With layer-fMRI, neuroscientists can ask questions about directional information flow, about afferent vs. efferent connectivity, and about feed-forward vs. feed-back input between brain areas. However, the method of layer-fMRI has just started to prove its applicability in neuroscientist research studies and will benefit from further development to improve its interpretability, user-friendliness and specificity-sensitivity advancements.

graphical anbstract-01Example of layer dependent activity pattern in the motor cortex.

The MR-Methods group is working on obtaining a better understanding of the signal generation mechanism in layer-fMRI and implementing advanced imaging and analysis tools for efficient mapping of layer activity:


Dimo Ivanov, Renzo Huber, Sri Kashyap, Benedikt Poser

While BOLD fMRI revolutionized the ability to tackle cortical information processing across brain systems, one of the major limitations of conventional gradient-echo BOLD fMRI is that it probes neuronal activity changes only indirectly via evoked cerebral blood flow (CBF), cerebral blood volume (CBV) and cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen (CMRO2) changes. Thus, conventional GE-BOLD is limited by its quantifiability and localization specificity. Measuring CBF, CBV or CMRO2 directly on a laminar and columnar level could overcome these limitations. However, the MR-Methods group showed in a recent review paper that their acquisition procedures come along with technical challenges and sensitivity constraints.


The MR-Methods group is working on making non-BOLD fMRI methods more applicable to address neuroscientists’ research questions. In recent papers, we could improve the non-BOLD fMRI sequences by combining contrast-generating adiabatic preparation pulses with efficient signal readout modules:

Ultra High Field Imaging

Benedikt Poser, Sri Kashyap, Renzo Huber, Dimo Ivanov

The SNR and CNR benefits of ultra-high field have helped push the envelope of achievable spatial resolution in MRI. However, the push for high resolution comes at a cost of a large encoding burden leading to very lengthy scans. The MR-Methods group is working on UHF-specific developments in parallel imaging with controlled aliasing and the move away from 2D slice-by-slice imaging to much more SNR-efficient simultaneous multi-slice (SMS) and 3D acquisitions to address this issue. Furthermore, the MR-Methods group is working on the implementation of new UHF RF pulse classes to tackle the B1+ and SAR issues of UHF and the increased SAR and power requirement of SMS RF pulses.


Current projects involve:


Alejandro Monreal, Benedikt Poser

The Accurate, Reliable and Optimized functional MAgnetic resonance imaging at unprecedented field strength for a unique exploration of the human brain (AROMA) project is a European collaboration between 6 different partners: CEA Neurospin (France), ETH Zürich (Switzerland), DZNE (Germany),  Maastricht University (The Netherlands), University of Glasgow (United Kingdom) and Skope (Switzerland).

AROMA will provide the means allowing in vivo non-invasive exploration of cognitive functions of the human brain at the cortical, mesoscopic, scale. This will be achieved with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) at the unprecedented field strength of 11.7T with a 500 μm isotropic resolution. Disorders at this scale are at the center stage in understanding disturbances of perception in computational psychiatry (schizophrenia, autism, depression). Higher fields however bring about greater technical challenges that must be overcome to fully exploit the potential of the unique 11.7T instrument.

Maastricht University is responsible to develop fast and reliable non-Cartesian fMRI sequences and image reconstruction at 7 T and 9.4 T, exploring both BOLD and non-BOLD fMRI contrasts in working towards the holy grail of achieving 0.5 mm isotropic fMRI with the 11.7 T scanner at CEA. The first project is to combine the benefits of 3D acquisitions and the efficiency of spiral readouts to obtain VASO images at sub-second TR, using a 3D stack of spirals readout.

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