Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) An invaluable tool in translational neuroscience

By Lori Whitten

The sophisticated methods of neuroscience—including molecular genetics, structural and functional neuroimaging, animal models, and experimental tasks that approximate real-world behaviors in human research—have yielded important insights about typical functioning and neurobehavioral disorders. Translational neuroscience endeavors to use this knowledge to improve the human condition by developing and improving interventions for these disorders. This paper reviews the literature on the contribution of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and two related techniques, resting-state fMRI (rs-fMRI) and real-time fMRI (rt-fMRI), to the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. It also explains how incorporating neuroscience principles and techniques into research on the prevention of substance misuse and antisocial behavior may spur advances and innovations in this important area. This article argues that fMRI’s potential contribution to these prevention efforts has yet to be fully realized, explores new ways in which the technique could be adapted to that end, highlights some of the work by researchers in the vanguard of this effort, and notes limitations of fMRI and ethical concerns the technique raises.


Whitten, L. (2012). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): An invaluable tool in translational neuroscience. (RTI Press Publication No. OP-0010-1212). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press.

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Lori WhittenLori A. Whitten, PhD, is a science writer in the Knowledge Translation and Strategic Communication group in RTI International’s Social, Statistical, and Environmental Sciences unit.

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