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Neuroimage. 2012 Nov 15;63(3):1712-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.06.078. Epub 2012 Jul 14.

Periodic changes in fMRI connectivity.

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Section on Functional Imaging Methods, Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, National Institute of Mental Health, Bldg 10, Rm 1D80, 10 Center Dr MSC 1148, Bethesda, MD 20892-1148, USA.


The first two decades of brain research using fMRI have been dominated by studies that measure signal changes in response to a presented task. A rapidly increasing number of studies are showing that consistent activation maps appear by assessment of signal correlations during time periods in which the subjects were not directed to perform any specific task (i.e. "resting state correlations"). Even though neural interactions can happen on much shorter time scales, most "resting state" studies assess these temporal correlations over a period of about 5 to 10 min. Here we investigate how these temporal correlations change on a shorter time scale. We examine changes in brain correlations to the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) across a 10-minute scan. We show: (1) fMRI correlations fluctuate over time, (2) these fluctuations can be periodic, and (3) correlations between the PCC and other brain regions fluctuate at distinct frequencies. While the precise frequencies of correlation fluctuations vary across subjects and runs, it is still possible to parse brain regions and combinations of brain regions based on fluctuation frequency differences. To evaluate the potential biological significance of these empirical observations, we then use synthetic time series data with identical amplitude spectra, but randomized phase to show that similar effects can still appear even if the timing relationships between voxels are randomized. This implies that observed correlation fluctuations could occur between regions with distinct amplitude spectra, whether or not there are dynamic changes in neural connectivity between such regions. As more studies of brain connectivity dynamics appear, particularly studies using correlation as a key metric, it is vital to better distinguish true neural connectivity dynamics from connectivity fluctuations that are inherently part of this method. Our results also highlight the rich information in the power spectra of fMRI data that can be used to parse brain regions.

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