Non-invasive human brain functional imaging with millisecond resolution can be achieved only with magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG). MEG has better spatial resolution than EEG because signal distortion due to inhomogeneous head conductivity is negligible in MEG but serious in EEG. However, this advantage has been practically limited by the necessary setback distances between the sensors and scalp, because the Dewar vessel containing liquid helium for superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs) requires a thick vacuum wall. Latest developments of high critical temperature (high-Tc) SQUIDs or optically pumped magnetometers have allowed closer placement of MEG sensors to the scalp. Here we introduce the use of tunnel magneto-resistive (TMR) sensors for scalp-attached MEG. Improvement of TMR sensitivity with magnetic flux concentrators enabled scalp-tangential MEG at 2.6 mm above the scalp, to target the largest signal component produced by the neural current below. In a healthy subject, our single-channel TMR-MEG system clearly demonstrated the N20m, the initial cortical component of the somatosensory evoked response after median nerve stimulation. Multisite measurement confirmed a spatially and temporally steep peak of N20m, immediately above the source at a latency around 20 ms, indicating a new approach to non-invasive functional brain imaging with millimeter and millisecond resolutions.
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