Activation mapping as a percentage of local excitation: fMRI stability within scans, between scans and across field strengths.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) does not typically yield highly reproducible maps of brain activation. Maps can vary significantly even with constant scanning parameters and consistent task performance conditions (Liu et al., Magn. Reson. Med., 2004, 52:751-760). Reproducibility is even more of a problem when comparing fMRI signal magnitude and spatial extent of activation across scans involving different task performance levels, scan durations, pulse sequences or magnetic field strengths. In this report, the consistency of fMRI was reexamined by considering the relative spatial and temporal distribution of fMRI blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) activation signals separately from the absolute magnitude of the activation signal in each brain area. Subjects repeatedly performed the same simple motor task but under a variety of imaging conditions, using both spiral and standard echo-planar pulse sequences and at 1.5- and 4.0-T magnetic field strengths. The results demonstrate that the absolute amplitude of BOLD statistical activation signals varied significantly across time and scanning conditions, but the relative spatial pattern of BOLD activation was highly reproducible across all conditions. Analysis of realistic simulated fMRI data sets indicates that stability of relative activation patterns could provide a useful tool for assessing the accuracy of fMRI maps.
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