The neurodevelopmental outcome of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) infants is a major clinical concern with many infants displaying neurobehavioral deficits in childhood. Functional neuroimaging may provide early recognition of neural deficits in high-risk infants. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has the advantage of providing functional neuroimaging in infants at the bedside. However, limitations in traditional NIRS have included contamination from superficial vascular dynamics in the scalp. Furthermore, controversy exists over the nature of normal vascular, responses in infants. To address these issues, we extend the use of novel high-density NIRS arrays with multiple source-detector distances and a superficial signal regression technique to infants. Evaluations of healthy term-born infants within the first three days of life are performed without sedation using a visual stimulus. We find that the regression technique significantly improves brain activation signal quality. Furthermore, in six out of eight infants, both oxy- and total hemoglobin increases while deoxyhemoglobin decreases, suggesting that, at term, the neurovascular coupling in the visual cortex is similar to that found in healthy adults. These results demonstrate the feasibility of using high-density NIRS arrays in infants to improve signal quality through superficial signal regression, and provide a foundation for further development of high-density NIRS as a clinical tool.
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