Numerical and experimental evaluation of low-intensity transcranial focused ultrasound wave propagation using human skulls for brain neuromodulation

Mengyue Chen, Chang Peng, Huaiyu Wu, Chih Chung Huang, Taewon Kim, Zachary Traylor, Marie Muller, Pratik Y. Chhatbar, Chang S. Nam, Wuwei Feng, Xiaoning Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Low-intensity transcranial focused ultrasound (tFUS) has gained considerable attention as a promising noninvasive neuromodulatory technique for human brains. However, the complex morphology of the skull hinders scholars from precisely predicting the acoustic energy transmitted and the region of the brain impacted during the sonication. This is due to the fact that different ultrasound frequencies and skull morphology variations greatly affect wave propagation through the skull. Purpose: Although the acoustic properties of human skull have been studied for tFUS applications, such as tumor ablation using a multielement phased array, there is no consensus about how to choose a single-element focused ultrasound (FUS) transducer with a suitable frequency for neuromodulation. There are interests in exploring the magnitude and dimension of tFUS beam through human parietal bone for modulating specific brain lobes. Herein, we aim to investigate the wave propagation of tFUS on human skulls to understand and address the concerns above. Methods: Both experimental measurements and numerical modeling were conducted to investigate the transmission efficiency and beam pattern of tFUS on five human skulls (C3 and C4 regions) using single-element FUS transducers with six different frequencies (150–1500 kHz). The degassed skull was placed in a water tank, and a calibrated hydrophone was utilized to measure acoustic pressure past it. The cranial computed tomography scan data of each skull were obtained to derive a high-resolution acoustic model (grid point spacing: 0.25 mm) in simulations. Meanwhile, we modified the power-law exponent of acoustic attenuation coefficient to validate numerical modeling and enabled it to be served as a prediction tool, based on the experimental measurements. Results: The transmission efficiency and −6 dB beamwidth were evaluated and compared for various frequencies. An exponential decrease in transmission efficiency and a logarithmic decrease of −6 dB beamwidth with an increase in ultrasound frequency were observed. It is found that a >750 kHz ultrasound leads to a relatively lower tFUS transmission efficiency (<5%), whereas a <350 kHz ultrasound contributes to a relatively broader beamwidth (>5 mm). Based on these observations, we further analyzed the dependence of tFUS wave propagation on FUS transducer aperture size. Conclusions: We successfully studied tFUS wave propagation through human skulls at different frequencies experimentally and numerically. The findings have important implications to predict tFUS wave propagation for ultrasound neuromodulation in clinical applications, and guide researchers to develop advanced ultrasound transducers as neural interfaces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-49
Number of pages12
JournalMedical Physics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jan

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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