Illuminating neurodegeneration: a future perspective on near-infrared spectroscopy in dementia research.


SIGNIFICANCE: Dementia presents a global healthcare crisis, and neuroimaging is the main method for developing effective diagnoses and treatments. Yet currently, there is a lack of sensitive, portable, and low-cost neuroimaging tools. As dementia is associated with vascular and metabolic dysfunction, near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has the potential to fill this gap. AIM: This future perspective aims to briefly review the use of NIRS in dementia to date and identify the challenges involved in realizing the full impact of NIRS for dementia research, including device development, study design, and data analysis approaches. APPROACH: We briefly appraised the current literature to assess the challenges, giving a critical analysis of the methods used. To assess the sensitivity of different NIRS device configurations to the brain with atrophy (as is common in most forms of dementia), we performed an optical modeling analysis to compare their cortical sensitivity. RESULTS: The first NIRS dementia study was published in 1996, and the number of studies has increased over time. In general, these studies identified diminished hemodynamic responses in the frontal lobe and altered functional connectivity in dementia. Our analysis showed that traditional (low-density) NIRS arrays are sensitive to the brain with atrophy (although we see a mean decrease of 22% in the relative brain sensitivity with respect to the healthy brain), but there is a significant improvement (a factor of 50 sensitivity increase) with high-density arrays. CONCLUSIONS: NIRS has a bright future in dementia research. Advances in technology - high-density devices and intelligent data analysis-will allow new, naturalistic task designs that may have more clinical relevance and increased reproducibility for longitudinal studies. The portable and low-cost nature of NIRS provides the potential for use in clinical and screening tests.