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Neuroimage. 2009 Sep;47(3):1092-104. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.05.030. Epub 2009 May 19.

fMRI in the presence of task-correlated breathing variations.

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Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, 10 Center Dr., Bldg 10, Rm 1D80, Bethesda, MD 20892-1148, USA.


Variations in the subject's heart rate and breathing pattern have been shown to result in significant fMRI signal changes, mediated in part by non-neuronal physiological mechanisms such as global changes in levels of arterial CO(2). When these physiological changes are correlated with a task, as may happen in response to emotional stimuli or tasks that change levels of arousal, a concern arises that non-neuronal physiologically-induced signal changes may be misinterpreted as reflecting task-related neuronal activation. The purpose of this study is to provide information that can help in determining whether task activation maps are influenced by task-correlated physiological noise, particularly task-correlated breathing changes. We also compare different strategies to reduce the influence of physiological noise. Two paradigms are investigated--1) a lexical decision task where some subjects showed task-related breathing changes, and 2) a task where subjects were instructed to hold their breath during the presentation of contrast-reversing checkerboard, an extreme case of task-correlated physiological noise. Consistent with previous literature, we find that MRI signal changes correlated with variations in breathing depth and rate have a characteristic spatial and temporal profile that is different from the typical activation-induced BOLD response. The delineation of activation in the presence of task correlated breathing changes was improved either by independent component analysis, or by including specific nuisance regressors in a regression analysis. The difference in the spatial and temporal characteristics of physiological-induced and neuronal-induced fluctuations exploited by these strategies suggests that activation can be studied even in the presence of task-correlated physiological changes.

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