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1. Inside the Brain: Hacks 1–12 > 3. Positron Emission Tomography: Measuring Ac...

Positron Emission Tomography: Measuring Activity Indirectly with PET

PET is a radioactivity-based technique to build a detailed 3D model of the brain and its activity.

Positron emission tomography (PET) is more invasive than any of the other imaging techniques. It requires getting a radioactive chemical into the bloodstream (by injection) and watching for where in the brain the radioactivity ends up—the “positron emission” of the name. The level of radioactivity is not dangerous, but this technique should not be used on the same person on a regular basis.

When neurons fire to send a signal to other neurons, they metabolize more energy. A few seconds later, fresh blood carrying more oxygen and glucose is carried to the region. Using a radioactive isotope of water, the amount of blood flow to each brain location can be monitored, and the active areas of the brain that require a lot of energy and therefore blood flow can be deduced.


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