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Brain in Motion

Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins

Credit: Itamar Terem, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, and Samantha Holdsworth, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Though our thoughts can wander one moment and race rapidly forward the next, the brain itself is often considered to be motionless inside the skull. But that’s actually not correct. When the heart beats, the pumping force reverberates throughout the body and gently pulsates the brain. What’s been tricky is capturing these pulsations with existing brain imaging technologies.

Recently, NIH-funded researchers developed a video-based approach to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that can record these subtle movements [1]. Their method, called phase-based amplified MRI (aMRI), magnifies those tiny movements, making them more visible and quantifiable. The latest aMRI method, developed by a team including Itamar Terem at Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, and Mehmet Kurt at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ. It builds upon an earlier method developed by Samantha Holdsworth at New Zealand’s University of Auckland and Stanford’s Mahdi Salmani Rahimi [2].

In the video, a traditional series of brain scans captured using standard MRI (left) make the brain appear mostly motionless. But a second series of scans captured using the new technique (right) shows the brain pulsating with each and every heartbeat.

As described in the journal Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, the team started by measuring the pulse of a healthy person. They synchronized the pulse with MRI images of the person’s brain, stitching the scans together to create a sequential video. Their new MRI approach then relies on a special algorithm developed by another group to magnify the subtle changes.

The new report demonstrates application of the technique to MRI scans of a healthy person and someone with structural abnormalities of the skull and the brain’s cerebellum known as Chiari malformations. Remarkably, those amplified MRI images revealed obvious differences in brain motion. The researchers also showed in another investigation which parts of the brain move the most.

The researchers hope this new approach will help physicians capture potentially important changes in the brains of people with conditions such as hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), which influence brain pressure and motion. One thing is already clear: we’ve never seen the brain quite like this before.


[1] Revealing sub-voxel motions of brain tissue using phase-based amplified MRI (aMRI). Terem I, Ni WW, Goubran M, Rahimi MS, Zaharchuk G, Yeom KW, Moseley ME, Kurt M, Holdsworth SJ. Magn Reson Med. 2018 May 30.

[2] Amplified magnetic resonance imaging (aMRI). Holdsworth SJ, Rahimi MS, Ni WW, Zaharchuk G, Moseley ME. Magn Reson Med. 2016 Jun;75(6):2245-2254.


Kurt Lab (Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ)

Samantha Holdsworth (University of Auckland, New Zealand)

NIH Support: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 


  • mchaitmd says:

    extraordinarily interesting images

  • S says:

    Cool study and a nice angle at seeing the “invisible motion”
    However, one caution is that whenever there is manipulation of original images, there is always a fine line of how big a scale of amplification.

  • KOC says:

    A perfect quantitive confirmation of St.Aristotle concept of soul as the form of matter (here,human’s).Here, the physical activity of brain connected with the (physical motor of body) heart

  • Maureen E. Palmer, MS, OTRL, CIMT says:

    This is great evidence for understanding why CranioSacral therapy is so powerful and gets great results because the brain itself is the factor of measure using its own natural pathways to reset, restore, unrestricted, decrease or increase amplitude and reposition areas affected in post TBI patient’s even those suffering for years after.

  • Dr. Karl R.O.S. Johnson, DC says:

    Our bodies are really fantastic machines and I love learning and sharing what new technology can show us about the wondrous vessels we live in!

  • Dave Dayanan says:

    This will give us a more detailed findings. This means another breakthrough project.

  • Deborah Couture says:

    Some of my patients who have seen this link are thinking that the video of the amplified brain is an abnormal brain. It is not clear to them that this is normal brain motion amplified.

  • Ben Ethridge says:

    Fascinating what we can learn from the mind through such images. In drug abuse cases, with recovery, you can actually see where the brain heals over time.

  • S. Wilson says:

    Nice Article!!

  • Od. Luis Marcano says:

    I was thinking, while reading this post, is it possible that the body affects the brain?

    I mean, that even our emotions change or show what´s happening in our bodies and the other way around

  • Janardhana Reddy says:

    Thank you for sharing valuable information

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