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Optical Coherence Tomography for Structural Neuroimaging and Non-Contact Recording of Functionally Stimulated Neural Activity


Nerve activity in a biological neural network is mostly characterized by generation and propagation of impulses through the nerves. These impulses, known as action potentials, are generated when the nerves are excited by a stimulus either as an external input or as a means of internal communication between nerves. This project is aimed to develop an optical imaging based minimally invasive technique for neural recording. Existing technologies largely limit the analysis of neuronal processing to a single or small cluster of neurons using different varieties of electrodes or the introduction of exogenous contrast agents and most of these techniques are invasive in some ways. Nerves undergo rapid transient thickness changes during propagation of action potentials. These activity associated structural changes are usually in the order of nanometers which is well beyond the usual limit of resolution of most common imaging technologies, including optical coherence tomography (OCT). However, recent advances in phase-resolved OCT (pr-OCT), a specific modality of OCT, have enabled the measurement of subnanometer changes in optical path length. This study demonstrates pr-OCT's capability to detect and measure rapid transient thickness changes in nerves during activity. Optically detected changes in nerve fiber thickness have timing and duration similar to the propagating electrical signal recorded in electrophysiology. Averaging of 8-10 impulses improves the SNR of detected optical signal. However, most of the results demonstrated here are single shot detections. Since OCT collects data from every depth points within a single A-line simultaneously, the changes in phase at every depth location are examined. Results demonstrate that these transient changes are present at different depths and this allows representing activity as a map of thickness changes. A custom-built cold block system has been used for switchable control of activation and deactivation of action potential propagation through the Limulus nerve. Optical recording has been compared with simultaneous electrical recording at every stages of cold block operation: activated nerve before deactivation, nerve after deactivation and nerve after reactivation. Hopefully, this study will serve as the basic ground work for future experiments and will have an overall significant impact on functional neuroimaging.

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