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Sure, you can try to fix it during data processing, but you're usually better off fixing the acquisition!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Resting state fMRI confounds

(Thanks to Dave J. Hayes for tweeting the publication of these papers.)

Two new papers provide comprehensive reviews of some of the confounds to the acquisition, processing and interpretation of resting state fMRI data. In the paper, "Resting-state fMRI confounds and cleanup," Murphy, Birn and Bandettini consider in some detail many of the noise sources in rs-fMRI, especially those having a physiologic origin.

In "Overview of potential procedural and participant-related confounds for neuroimaging of the resting state," Duncan and Northoff review the effects that other circumstantial factors, such as the scanner's acoustic noise, subject instructions, subjects' emotional state, and caffeine might have on rs-fMRI studies. Without due consideration, some or all of these factors may inadvertently become experimental variables; the implications for inter-individual differences are considerable. (I've reviewed some of the issues concerning what we can permit subjects to do before and during rs-fMRI in this post.)

While we're on the subject of confounds in rs-fMRI - especially those with a motion component - another confound that motion introduces is a sensitivity to the receive field heterogeneity of the head coil. This problem gets worse the more channels the coil has, because the coil elements get smaller as the number of channels goes up. For an introduction to the issue see this arXiv paper; there will also be simulations of the effect for a 32-channel coil at the ISMRM conference in a couple of weeks' time. (See e-poster, abstract #3352.) The result is that spurious correlations and anti-correlations can result, necessitating some sort of clever sorting or de-noising scheme to distinguish them from "true" brain correlations. I mention it here because there is a common misconception in the field that applying a retrospective motion correction step fixes all motion-related artifacts. It doesn't. Nor does including all of the motion parameters as regressors in a model. Motion has some insidious ways in which it can modulate the MRI signal level, and it is high time that we, as a field, reconsider very carefully what we are doing for motion correction, and why.

Finally, I'll note in passing that slice timing correction may not be a good idea for rs-fMRI. It's been known since the correction was first proposed that it should interact a with a motion correction step. (The two corrections should be applied simultaneously, as one 4D space-time correction rather than a separate 3D space then time correction, or vice versa.) I don't have data to share just yet, but if anyone is wondering whether they should include STC in their rs-fMRI analysis, as they would do for event-related fMRI, then my advice is to skip it until someone can prove to you that it has no unintended consequences. (Demonstration of unintended consequences to follow eventually....)


Resting state fMRI confounds and cleanup. K Murphy, RM Birn and PA Bandettini, NeuroImage Epub.
DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.04.001

Overview of potential procedural and participant-related confounds for neuroimaging of the resting state. NW Duncan and G Northoff, J. Psychiatry Neurosci. 2013, 38(2), 84-96.
PMID: 22964258
DOI: 10.1503/jpn.120059


  1. And I would think that if retrospective motion correction and slice timing correction were to be done in one 4D space-time correction then the temporal sampling rate of fMRI must be significantly increased over typical present sampling rates. This is because for most cases of motion the subject movement characteristic frequency will be greater than the BOLD characteristic frequency.

  2. Here's a new paper showing task hangover effects, too: