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fNIR spectroscopy – JoVE article with video

Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE)

Using MazeSuite and Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy to Study Learning in Spatial Navigation

Hasan Ayaz1, Patricia A. Shewokis1,2, Adrian Curtin1, Meltem Izzetoglu1, Kurtulus Izzetoglu1, Banu Onaral1

1 School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, Drexel University
2 College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel University

If the player does not load after a minute or two, try this link to JoVE article 3443.

Click here for fNIR JoVE article 3443 PDF.

The article includes an Introduction, fNIR Principles, fNIR Sensor Placement and Data Acquisition with COBI Studio, Processing fNIR Signals, Designing and Running Experiments in a MazeSuite, Representative Results, and Conclusion.


MazeSuite is a complete toolset to prepare, present and analyze navigational and spatial experiments1. MazeSuite can be used to design and edit adapted virtual 3D environments, track a participants' behavioral performance within the virtual environment and synchronize with external devices for physiological and neuroimaging measures, including electroencephalogram and eye tracking.

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIR) is an optical brain imaging technique that enables continuous, noninvasive, and portable monitoring of changes in cerebral blood oxygenation related to human brain functions2-7. Over the last decade fNIR is used to effectively monitor cognitive tasks such as attention, working memory and problem solving7-11. fNIR can be implemented in the form of a wearable and minimally intrusive device; it has the capacity to monitor brain activity in ecologically valid environments.

Cognitive functions assessed through task performance involve patterns of brain activation of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) that vary from the initial novel task performance, after practice and during retention12. Using positron emission tomography (PET), Van Horn and colleagues found that regional cerebral blood flow was activated in the right frontal lobe during the encoding (i.e., initial naïve performance) of spatial navigation of virtual mazes while there was little to no activation of the frontal regions after practice and during retention tests. Furthermore, the effects of contextual interference, a learning phenomenon related to organization of practice, are evident when individuals acquire multiple tasks under different practice schedules13,14. High contextual interference (random practice schedule) is created when the tasks to be learned are presented in a non-sequential, unpredictable order. Low contextual interference (blocked practice schedule) is created when the tasks to be learned are presented in a predictable order.

Our goal here is twofold: first to illustrate the experimental protocol design process and the use of MazeSuite, and second, to demonstrate the setup and deployment of the fNIR brain activity monitoring system using Cognitive Optical Brain Imaging (COBI) Studio software15. To illustrate our goals, a subsample from a study is reported to show the use of both MazeSuite and COBI Studio in a single experiment. The study involves the assessment of cognitive activity of the PFC during the acquisition and learning of computer maze tasks for blocked and random orders. Two right-handed adults (one male, one female) performed 315 acquisition, 30 retention and 20 transfer trials across four days. Design, implementation, data acquisition and analysis phases of the study were explained with the intention to provide a guideline for future studies.

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