In near-infrared spectroscopy and imaging, the sensitivity of the detected signal to brain activation and the volume of interrogated tissue are clinically important. Light propagation in adult and neonatal heads is strongly affected by the presence of a low-scattering cerebrospinal fluid layer. The effect of the heterogeneous structure of the head on light propagation in the adult brain is likely to be different from that in the neonatal brain because the thickness of the superficial tissues and the optical properties of the brain of the neonatal head are quite different from those of the adult head. In this study, light propagation in the two-dimensional realistic adult and neonatal head models, whose geometries are generated from a magnetic resonance imaging scan of the human heads, is predicted by Monte Carlo simulation. The sandwich structure, which is a low-scattering cerebrospinal fluid layer held between the high-scattering skull and gray matter, strongly affects light propagation in the brain of the adult head. The sensitivity of the absorption change in the gray matter is improved; however, the intensely sensitive region is confined to the shallow region of the gray matter. The high absorption of the neonatal brain causes a similar effect on light propagation in the head. The intensely sensitive region in the neonatal brain is confined to the gray matter; however, the spatial sensitivity profile penetrates into the deeper region of the white matter.
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