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Neuroimage. 2012 Apr 15;60(3):1746-58. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.01.129. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

Test-retest reliability of evoked BOLD signals from a cognitive-emotive fMRI test battery.

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Central Institute of Mental Health, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Heidelberg/Medical Faculty Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany.


Even more than in cognitive research applications, moving fMRI to the clinic and the drug development process requires the generation of stable and reliable signal changes. The performance characteristics of the fMRI paradigm constrain experimental power and may require different study designs (e.g., crossover vs. parallel groups), yet fMRI reliability characteristics can be strongly dependent on the nature of the fMRI task. The present study investigated both within-subject and group-level reliability of a combined three-task fMRI battery targeting three systems of wide applicability in clinical and cognitive neuroscience: an emotional (face matching), a motivational (monetary reward anticipation) and a cognitive (n-back working memory) task. A group of 25 young, healthy volunteers were scanned twice on a 3T MRI scanner with a mean test-retest interval of 14.6 days. FMRI reliability was quantified using the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) applied at three different levels ranging from a global to a localized and fine spatial scale: (1) reliability of group-level activation maps over the whole brain and within targeted regions of interest (ROIs); (2) within-subject reliability of ROI-mean amplitudes and (3) within-subject reliability of individual voxels in the target ROIs. Results showed robust evoked activation of all three tasks in their respective target regions (emotional task=amygdala; motivational task=ventral striatum; cognitive task=right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and parietal cortices) with high effect sizes (ES) of ROI-mean summary values (ES=1.11-1.44 for the faces task, 0.96-1.43 for the reward task, 0.83-2.58 for the n-back task). Reliability of group level activation was excellent for all three tasks with ICCs of 0.89-0.98 at the whole brain level and 0.66-0.97 within target ROIs. Within-subject reliability of ROI-mean amplitudes across sessions was fair to good for the reward task (ICCs=0.56-0.62) and, dependent on the particular ROI, also fair-to-good for the n-back task (ICCs=0.44-0.57) but lower for the faces task (ICC=-0.02-0.16). In conclusion, all three tasks are well suited to between-subject designs, including imaging genetics. When specific recommendations are followed, the n-back and reward task are also suited for within-subject designs, including pharmaco-fMRI. The present study provides task-specific fMRI reliability performance measures that will inform the optimal use, powering and design of fMRI studies using comparable tasks.

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