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Neuroimage. 2019 Aug 25;202:116129. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116129. [Epub ahead of print]

Imaging the spontaneous flow of thought: Distinct periods of cognition contribute to dynamic functional connectivity during rest.

Author information

1
Section on Functional Imaging Methods, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA. Electronic address: javier.gonzalez-castillo@nih.gov.
2
Basque Center on Brain and Cognition, San Sebastian, Spain.
3
Section on Functional Imaging Methods, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA.
4
Machine Learning Team, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA.
5
Section on Functional Imaging Methods, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA; FMRI Facility, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA; Machine Learning Team, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA.

Abstract

Brain functional connectivity (FC) changes have been measured across seconds using fMRI. This is true for both rest and task scenarios. Moreover, it is well accepted that task engagement alters FC, and that dynamic estimates of FC during and before task events can help predict their nature and performance. Yet, when it comes to dynamic FC (dFC) during rest, there is no consensus about its origin or significance. Some argue that rest dFC reflects fluctuations in on-going cognition, or is a manifestation of intrinsic brain maintenance mechanisms, which could have predictive clinical value. Conversely, others have concluded that rest dFC is mostly the result of sampling variability, head motion or fluctuating sleep states. Here, we present novel analyses suggesting that rest dFC is influenced by short periods of spontaneous cognitive-task-like processes, and that the cognitive nature of such mental processes can be inferred blindly from the data. As such, several different behaviorally relevant whole-brain FC configurations may occur during a single rest scan even when subjects were continuously awake and displayed minimal motion. In addition, using low dimensional embeddings as visualization aids, we show how FC states-commonly used to summarize and interpret resting dFC-can accurately and robustly reveal periods of externally imposed tasks; however, they may be less effective in capturing periods of distinct cognition during rest.

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