Functional magnetic resonance imaging of the human brain: data acquisition and analysis
- Cite this article as:
- Turner, R., Howseman, A., Rees, G. et al. Exp Brain Res (1998) 123: 5. doi:10.1007/s002210050538
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It is now feasible to create spatial maps of activity in the human brain completely non-invasively using magnetic resonance imaging. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images in which the spin magnetization is refocussed by gradient switching are sensitive to local changes in magnetic susceptibility, which can occur when the oxygenation state of blood changes. Cortical neural activity causes increases in blood flow, which usually result in changes in blood oxygenation. Hence changes of image intensity can be observed, given rise to the so-called Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent (BOLD) contrast technique. Use of echo-planar imaging methods (EPI) allows the monitoring over the entire brain of such changes in real time. A temporal resolution of 1–3 s, and a spatial resolution of 2 mm in-plane, can thus be obtained. Generally in a brain mapping experiment hundred of brain image volumes are acquired at repeat times of 1–6 s, while brain tasks are performed. The data are transformed into statistical maps of image difference, using the technique known as statistical parametric mapping (SPM). This method, based on robust multilinear regression techniques, has become the method of reference for analysis of positron emission tomography (PET) image data. The special characteristics of functional MRI data require some modification of SPM algorithms and strategies, and the MRI data must be gaussianized in time and space to conform to the assumptions of the statistics of Gaussian random fields. The steps of analysis comprise: removal of head movement effects, spatial smoothing, and statistical interference, which includes temporal smoothing and removal by fitting of temporal variations slower than the experimental paradigm. By these means, activation maps can be generated with great flexibility and statistical power, giving probability estimates for activated brain regions based on intensity or spatial extent, or both combined. Recent studies have shown that patterns of activation obtained in human brain for a given stimulus are independent of the order and spatial orientation with which MRI images are acquired, and hence that inflow effects are not important for EPI data with a TR much longer than T1.