Science

"What is a scientist after all? It is a curious man looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what's going on." 
Jacques Cousteau, oceanographer and inventor

In the last decade, functional ultrasound imaging, invented in the Tanter lab in Paris, opened new vistas of the brain. Scroll down for significant technological and scientific advances enabled by fUS technology.


 

Fundamental neuroscience research

  1. Functional activation mapping                    
  2. Resting-state functional connectivity                      
  3. Multimodality: EEG, optogenetics                                    
  4. Animal models and awake imaging

Pharmacology and drug discovery

  1. Drug-induced connectivity alterations           

Stroke and neurovascular research

  1. High-quality angiography
  2. Imaging stroke

 

Fundamental neuroscience research

Multimodal insight. Perform unbiased whole-brain imaging of brain circuits in awake, active animals, study cerebral blood volume variation or neurovascular coupling in genetic models,  integrate easily with electrophysiology, optogenetics, guided injections or else, as you envision.

1.  Functional activation mapping

Mapping a stimulus

Functional ultrasound neuro imaging has been used to map the brain response to external stimuli. We realized very early in our seminal study on anesthetized rats (Mace et al, Nature Methods, 2011) , where we used functional ultrasound to map the response of the brain to whisker stimulation (including single whisker stimulation) that functional ultrasound imaging is a very sensitive neuroimaging modality with excellent spatial resolution.

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Functional ultrasound (fUS) imaging evoked in the left (e) or right (f) somatosensory cortex, hindlimb part (S1HL) using electrical stimulation (5 Hz, 0.2 mA, 100 μs width for 10 s, separated by 20 s) of the right (e) or left (f) sciatic nerve applied either on the right (e) or left (f) side, respectively. (g) Time course changes in the evoked fUS response in the left S1HL following stimulation of the contralateral sciatic nerve. From: Osmanski et al, Nature Communications, 2014 - Open Access - Courtesy B. Osmanski

Functional activations can be used as a first control to validate probe positioning and animal response before more complex functional experiments. For instance, researchers using Iconeus technology are now quantifying functional response to standard stimuli to study genetically- or pharmacologically-induced alterations in the neurovascular coupling and pericyte functions (unpublished data).

 

Retinotopic and tonotopic maps

The high spatial resolution of the fUS technique has allowed to create detailed retinotopic maps of the rat, mouse and even awake primates performing complex visual task.

In the recent awake mice study of the Roska lab, Emilie Macé, alumnus of the Tanter lab, has shown that functional ultrasound could reveal 87 brain structures involved in the optokinetic reflex alone (Mace et al., Neuron, 2018).

Researchers have also began to study audition in awake ferrets, an eminent model for audition research. By mapping the response to auditory stimuli with different frequency, they have been able to construct highly-detailed sonotopic maps and to demonstrate that neighboring pixels at 100 micrometers distance show independant auditory response curves, further demonstrating the high resolution of functional ultrasound (Bimbard et al, eLife, 2018).

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fUS imaging reveals the tonotopic organization of cortical, sub-cortical, and intracortical auditory structures in the awake ferret. (a) Left: UFD-T of the left and right craniotomies, superimposed on an MRI scan of a ferret brain. Right: magnification of the blue bounding box (left). Auditory structures: auditory cortices (AC), medial geniculate body (MGB), inferior colliculus (IC). Other structures: hippocampus (Hip), visual cortex (VC). (b) Structural view of a tilted parasagittal slice (~30° from D-V axis) of the visual and auditory cortices (represented as a blue plane on the 3D brain). Lining delineates the cortex. (c) Upper left: Tonotopic organization of the slice described in (b). Lower left: tuning curve (mean ± sem) and average responses in %CBV (see Materials and methods) for the voxel located in the upper panel (black cross). Upper right: combination of 16 similar slices over the surface of the AC, arrow depicts slice of (b). AEG/MEG/PEG: anterior/middle/posterior ectosylvian gyrus. Lower right: 3D reconstruction of the whole AC’s functional organization. Bimbard et al, eLife, 2018,  CC-BY 4.0

Mapping activity in a behaving primate

In behaving non-human primates, researchers have shown how functional ultrasound can be used to map the regions involved in complex task and rule handling in the Supplementary Eye Field (SEF), by following the regions response trial-by-trial with high sensitivity. fUS is able to assess local changes in cerebral blood volume during cognitive tasks, with sufficient temporal resolution to measure the directional propagation of signals. In two macaques, they observed an abrupt transient change in supplementary eye field (SEF) activity when animals were required to modify their behaviour associated with a change of saccade tasks. Notably, SEF activation could be observed in a single trial, without averaging (Dizeux et al., Nature Communications, 2019).

Functional ultrasound neuro imaging is now also being investigated in non-human primates for its high potential for Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI).

 

Mapping odour responses with much higher sensitivity and resolution than BOLD fMRI

Finally, the Charpak lab provided recently an extensive comparison between calcium imaging, bold-fMRI at very high field (17.2 Tesla) and functional ultrasound neuro imaging in the same animal. By imaging functional responses in the mice olfactory bulb during odor presentation, researchers conclude that functional ultrasound “is a very efficient technique for measuring mesoscopic vascular responses. Its high SNR and temporal resolution allows the generation of voxel-based correlation maps even at low-odour concentration.” whereas the very same experiment “ was not ideal for BOLD-fMRI mapping, due to the lower SNR and temporal resolution of our BOLD-fMRI protocol.” (Boido et al, Nature Communication, 2019).

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2. "Resting-state" functional connectivity

Imaging intrinsic brain connectivity, often called resting-state connectivity in clinical fMRI studies, is a powerful non-invasive approach to map dynamic brain networks through detecting correlated fluctuations of spontaneous blood flow. A seminal fUS study, co-authored by a Paris research team, including three future Iconeus founders, has shown in 2014 that fUS allows to detect highly-resoved and highly-contrasted intrinsic brain connectivity patterns in the rat brain (Osmanski et al. Nature Communications, 2014).

 

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Correlation matrices of the functional connectivity in the rat. (a,c) Matrices at Bregma +0.84 mm and (b,d) matrices at Bregma −2.16 mm. (c,d) The correlation matrices obtained show a strong bilateral correlation of signals in the cingular, retrosplenial granular, motor and S1 cortices, as well as between the motor and S1 cortices. Other brain areas, such as the caudate putamen, septum, hippocampus and thalamus showed bilateral correlations and weak-to-no correlation with the somatomotor areas. Scale bar, 1.1mm. Osmanski et al, Nature Communications, 2014 - Open Access - Courtesy B. Osmanski

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Global spatial modes in the rat. (a) Global spatial modes (GSMs), representing reproducible connectivity patterns (N=6), at the three investigated coronal levels. The first GSMs show synchronized haemodynamic fluctuations in the cortical ribbon. Subsequent GSMs delineate highly contrasting cortical connectivity patterns, where the midline anterior cingulate and retrosplenial cortices (red and yellow on GSM 2 and 3), prominent hubs of the putative default-mode network are temporally anticorrelated with the task-dependent lateral sensorimotor network (blue and light blue on GSM 2 and 3, respectively). These two main cortical networks are also correlated with subcortical regions such as the caudate, putamen and septum. Scale bar, 1 mm. Osmanski et al, Nature Communications, 2014 - Open Access - Courtesy B. Osmanski

Similary to fMRI, connectivity matrices, modes or seed-based maps can be used as an efficient  functional readout. Functional ultrasound connectivity has been used as such to study the role of ocytocin in rat pups (Mairesseet  al. Glia, 2019), but also to study pain sensitivity in anesthetized rats or pharmacologically-induced connectivity alterations in rats and mice (unpublished data).

Importatly, recent development shows that thanks to the light ultrasonic probes, robust connectivity matrices can be obtained in awake freely-moving or head-fixed mice (unpublished data), eliminating the bias of anesthetics. This technological advance may be particularly relevant to analyse genetically modified mice models. 

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3. Multimodality: Optogenetics, multi-electrodes or else

Contrary to magnetic fields, ultrasound has little to no impact to the surroundings, it is thus straightforward to combine functional ultrasound neuro imaging with other modalities such as electro-encephalography (eeg), multi electrodes array or optical imaging. 

For instance, Sieu et al. (Nature Methods, 2015) demonstrated the use of implanted electodes + functional ultrasound in the context of absence seizure in the rat, the local field potential signal being used to characterize seizures. Bergel et al. (Nature Communications, 2018) further pushed the concept to study locomotion and sleep states. By correlating the enveloppe of different EEG LFP bands with the functional ultrasound signals, the researchers have been able to reveal previously undescribed brain-wide spatiotemporal hemodynamics of single REM sleep episodes.

A multiarray silicon probe

Rungta et al. (Nature Communications, 2017) and Mace et al. (Neuron, 2018) have both demonstrated the combined use of optogenetics with functional ultrasound. Optogenetics can be used to stimulate specfiic neurons population while the unbiaised whole-brain response is simultaeously monitored. 

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4. Choose your animal model, anesthetized or awake

Overall, functional ultrasound imaging is highly versatile and adaptable to different species.

Researchers worldwide have already obtained impressive results on many different species : mice, rats (including pups), pigeons, ferrets, rabbits and non-human primates. 

The trade-off between field of view and resolution

By adapting the probe and the ultrasound frequency, we can scale from small to large animals, benefiting from the classical tradeoff between spatial resolution and imaging depth. However, as fUS imaging has a very good spatial resolution to start with (as compared to fMRI for exemple), even at 6MHz, which allows to visualize the whole human brain, we can observe and measure vasculature and cerebral blood flow with impressive details.

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Different probes configuration allow to increase depth at the expanse of resolution. fUS imaging of the same visual cortex of a non-human primate seen with a different ultrasonic probe used at their central frequency.  Dizeux et al, Nature Communications, 2019,  Open Access, Courtesy M Tanter

Awake configurations

1. Head-fixed (2D locomotion)
Mice, rats, ferrets as well as non-human primates can be imaged under head-fixation conditions. 

Head-fixed configuration in mice with a Mobile HomeCage™ from Neurotar™associated with an ICONEUS transducer via a compatible headplate.

2. Head-mounted (3D locomotion)

Head-mounted configuration in mice

Our probes are adapted to fit most configurations including standard primate electrophysiology chambers, such as the systems from Crist Instruments, for awake primate experiments.

Animal species and protocols

Birds, ferrets, rats, rabbits and non-human primates require a specific preparation to create for an acoustic window. For chronic imaging, researchers have been using either a thin-skull window (Osmanski et al., 2015) or used an acoustically transparent polymer (Sieu et al. 2015) to replace the skull by adapting a protocol similar to that employed in chronic optical imaging.

If rats can also be imaged directly through the skull with off-the-shelf acoustic contrast agents (Errico et al., Neuroimage, 2016), mice do not require any specific preparation or contrast agents and can be imaged directly through the skull (Tiran et al., Ultrasound Med. Biol. 2017), although such preparation can further improve SNR for specific studies. 

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Pharmacology & drug discovery

Better than BOLD. Functional ultrasound can be the right readout for the study of the effect of pharmacological agents on the brain, without the bias of anesthesia. Functional ultrasound is now validated in rats and also in mice models including genetically modified strains, to study the brain effects of drugs.

Essentially, functional ultrasound can be used as PharmacoMRI, fMRI and rs-fMRI at once, more sensitive, easier to use and adapted to awake configurations. This is a ideal tool to complement behavorial studies with solid results obtained in small cohorts of animals.

FUS can be used to show time- and dose-dependent connectivity changes following pharmacological treatments, both in wild-type and genetically modified awake mice. Machine-learning approaches are used to extract robust pharmacological scores or fingerprints of drug effects on the brain. 

 

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Stroke and neurovascular research

Time is brain. The sensitivity of functional ultrasound to blood flow makes it the perfect tool to monitor vascular events such as stroke in the brain, instantly and at full depth. 

Think of it as a volumic laser speckle imaging, covering the whole brain in depth.

1. Ultrasensitive angiography

Ultrasensitive Doppler tomography

Functional ultrasound enabled 3D microvascular imaging of brain hemodynamics in rodents by combining ultrasound ultrasensitive Doppler and tomographic reconstruction for 3D imaging (Demene et al., NeuroImage, 2016). The technique reaches an exceptional 100 μm isotropic spatial resolution and is sensitive enough to image vessels displaying fast to very slow blood flow (1 mm/s). Ultrafast Doppler angiography in vivo imaging could become a valuable tool for the study of brain hemodynamics, such as cerebral flow autoregulation or vascular remodeling after ischemic stroke recovery, and, more generally, brain tumor vasculature response to therapeutic treatment.

 

4D Ultrasensitive Doppler 

4D ultrasensitive Doppler was proposed to map dynamically relatively slow events (<20 seconds) in several slices of the brain automatically (Demene et al., NeuroImage, 2016). The approach allows to perform 3D functional ultrasound but also to monitor hemodynamics events such as stroke monitoring in the whole-brain in an efficient and easy manner. The trade-off betwee volume rate and number of slice can be adjusted to best fit the intended applications.

2. Stroke imaging

Functional ultrasound measures relative changes in CBV and can be used to monitor recanalisation and reperfusion in stroke models with high spatio-temporal resolution.

Martin et al. (J Cereb Blood Flow Metab., 2012) detected longitudinal changes in tissue perfusion and elasticity by using ultrafast ulrasound imaging in parallel with positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). Brunner et al. (J Cereb Blood Flow Metab., 2018) used a rat intraluminal middle cerebral artery occlusion model to map the reperfusion in 2D and extracted time course of the occluded-side and non-occluded side somatosensory and motor structures. The authors investigated the slopes of the reperfusion. Functional ultrasound allows the characterization of the ischemic area with respect to regional differences in blood volume during transient occlusion and subsequent reperfusion.

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