[MARMAM] New publication on functional NIRS and sensory brain imaging in seals

Chris McKnight jcm20 at st-andrews.ac.uk
Tue Jun 15 04:39:38 PDT 2021

Hello all,
My co-authors and I are pleased to announce the publication of our paper on fNIRS and sensory brain imaging in seals:

J. Chris McKnight, Alexander Ruesch, Kimberley Bennett, Mathijs Bronkhorst, Steve Balfour, Simon E. W. Moss, Ryan Milne, Peter L. Tyack, Jana Kainerstorfer and Gordon D. Hastie. 2021.  Shining new light on sensory brain activation and physiological measurement in seals using wearable optical technology. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 20200224.

Abstract:  Sensory ecology and physiology of free-ranging animals is challenging to study but underpins our understanding of decision-making in the wild. Existing non-invasive human biomedical technology offers tools that could be harnessed to address these challenges. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a wearable, non-invasive biomedical imaging technique measures oxy- and deoxyhaemoglobin concentration changes that can be used to detect localized neural activation in the brain. We tested the efficacy of fNIRS to detect cortical activation in grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and identify regions of the cortex associated with different senses (vision, hearing and touch). The activation of specific cerebral areas in seals was detected by fNIRS in responses to light (vision), sound (hearing) and whisker stimulation (touch). Physiological parameters, including heart and breathing rate, were also extracted from the fNIRS signal, which allowed neural and physiological responses to be monitored simultaneously. This is the first time fNIRS has been used to detect cortical activation in a non-domesticated or laboratory animal. Since fNIRS is non-invasive and wearable, this study demonstrates its potential as a tool to quantitatively investigate sensory perception and brain function while simultaneously recording heart rate, tissue and arterial oxygen saturation of haemoglobin, perfusion changes and breathing rate in free-ranging animals.

The paper can be obtained at the following link:

Or by email request:
jcm20 at st-andrews.ac.uk

Kind Regards,

J. Chris McKnight
Research Fellow, Sea Mammal Research Unit
University of St. Andrews, Scotland

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