Awake animal imaging is becoming an important tool in behavioral neuroscience and preclinical drug discovery. Non-invasive ultra-high-field, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) provides a window to the mind, making it possible to image changes in brain activity across distributed, integrated neural circuits with high temporal and spatial resolution. In theory, changes in brain function, anatomy, and chemistry can be recorded in the same animal from early life into old age under stable or changing environmental conditions. This prospective capability of animal imaging to follow changes in brain neurobiology after genetic or environmental insult has great value to the fields of psychiatry and neurology and probably stands as the key advantage of MRI over other methods in the neuroscience toolbox. In addition, awake animal imaging offers the ability to record signal changes across the entire brain in seconds. When combined with the use of 3D segmented, annotated, brain atlases, and computational analysis, it is possible to reconstruct distributed, integrated neural circuits or ‘fingerprints’ of brain activity. These fingerprints can be used to characterize the activity and function of new psychotherapeutics in preclinical development and to study the neurobiology of integrated neural circuits controlling cognition and emotion. In this review, we describe the methods used to image awake animals and the recent advances in the radiofrequency electronics, pulse sequences, and the development of 3D segmented atlases and software for image analysis. Results from pharmacological MRI studies and from studies using provocation paradigms to elicit emotional responses are provided as a small sample of the number of different applications possible with awake animal imaging.
©2011 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston