Tech Briefs

Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Signals Measure Neuronal Activity in the Cortex

This non-invasive monitoring method can be used to evaluate the mental state of people performing critical tasks.

Functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is an emerging optical neuroimaging technology that indirectly measures neuronal activity in the cortex via neurovascular coupling. It quantifies hemoglobin concentration ([Hb]) and thus measures the same hemodynamic response as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), but is portable, non-confining, relatively inexpensive, and is appropriate for long-duration monitoring and use at the bedside. Like fMRI, it is noninvasive and safe for repeated measurements. Patterns of [Hb] changes are used to classify cognitive state. Thus, fNIRS technology offers much potential for application in operational contexts. For instance, the use of fNIRS to detect the mental state of commercial aircraft operators in near real time could allow intelligent flight decks of the future to optimally support human performance in the interest of safety by responding to hazardous mental states of the operator. However, many opportunities remain for improving robustness and reliability. It is desirable to reduce the impact of motion and poor optical coupling of probes to the skin. Such artifacts degrade signal quality and thus cognitive state classification accuracy. Field application calls for further development of algorithms and filters for the automation of bad channel detection and dynamic artifact removal.

This work introduces a novel adaptive filter method for automated real-time fNIRS signal quality detection and improvement. The output signal (after filtering) will have had contributions from motion and poor coupling reduced or removed, thus leaving a signal more indicative of changes due to hemodynamic brain activations of interest. Cognitive state classifications based on these signals reflect brain activity more reliably. The filter has been tested successfully with both synthetic and real human subject data, and requires no auxiliary measurement.

This method could be implemented as a real-time filtering option or bad channel rejection feature of software used with frequency domain fNIRS instruments for signal acquisition and processing. Use of this method could improve the reliability of any operational or real-world application of fNIRS in which motion is an inherent part of the functional task of interest. Other optical diagnostic techniques (e.g., for NIR medical diagnosis) also may benefit from the reduction of probe motion artifact during any use in which motion avoidance would be impractical or limit usability.

This work was done by Angela Harrivel and Tristan Hearn of Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. LEW-18952-1

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Signals Measure Neuronal Activity in the Cortex (reference LEW-18952-1) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

Please Login at the top of the page to download.