Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has massively contributed to the understanding of mammalian brain function. However, the origin and interpretation of the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signals retrieved by fMRI remain highly disputed. This article reports on the development of a fully hybridized system enabling concurrent functional magnetic resonance optoacoustic tomography (MROT) measurements of stimulus-evoked brain-wide sensory responses in mice. The highly complementary angiographic and soft tissue contrasts of both modalities along with simultaneous multi-parametric readings of stimulus-evoked hemodynamic responses are leveraged in order to establish unequivocal links between the various counteracting physiological and metabolic processes in the brain. The results indicate that the BOLD signals are highly correlated, both spatially and temporally, with the total hemoglobin readings resolved with volumetric multi-spectral optoacoustic tomography. Furthermore, the differential oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin optoacoustic readings exhibit superior sensitivity as compared to the BOLD signals when detecting stimulus-evoked hemodynamic responses. The fully hybridized MROT approach greatly expands the neuroimaging toolset to comprehensively study neurovascular and neurometabolic coupling mechanisms and related diseases.

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