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Neuroimage. 2007 Apr 1;35(2):669-85. Epub 2007 Feb 12.

Hierarchical Bayesian estimates of distributed MEG sources: theoretical aspects and comparison of variational and MCMC methods.

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  • 1Laboratory of Computational Engineering, Helsinki University of Technology, PO Box 9203, 02015, HUT, Espoo, Finland.


Magnetoencephalography (MEG) provides millisecond-scale temporal resolution for noninvasive mapping of human brain functions, but the problem of reconstructing the underlying source currents from the extracranial data has no unique solution. Several distributed source estimation methods based on different prior assumptions have been suggested for the resolution of this inverse problem. Recently, a hierarchical Bayesian generalization of the traditional minimum norm estimate (MNE) was proposed, in which the variance of distributed current at each cortical location is considered as a random variable and estimated from the data using the variational Bayesian (VB) framework. Here, we introduce an alternative scheme for performing Bayesian inference in the context of this hierarchical model by using Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) strategies. In principle, the MCMC method is capable of numerically representing the true posterior distribution of the currents whereas the VB approach is inherently approximative. We point out some potential problems related to hyperprior selection in the previous work and study some possible solutions. A hyperprior sensitivity analysis is then performed, and the structure of the posterior distribution as revealed by the MCMC method is investigated. We show that the structure of the true posterior is rather complex with multiple modes corresponding to different possible solutions to the source reconstruction problem. We compare the results from the VB algorithm to those obtained from the MCMC simulation under different hyperparameter settings. The difficulties in using a unimodal variational distribution as a proxy for a truly multimodal distribution are also discussed. Simulated MEG data with realistic sensor and source geometries are used in performing the analyses.

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