Correcting Task fMRI Signals for Variability in Baseline CBF Improves BOLD-Behavior Relationships: A Feasibility Study in an Aging Model

Academic Article


  • Blood Oxygen Level Dependent (BOLD) functional MRI is a complex neurovascular signal whose magnitude depends on baseline physiological factors such as cerebral blood flow (CBF). Because baseline CBF varies across the brain and is altered with aging, the interpretation of stand-alone aging-related BOLD changes can be misleading. The primary objective of this study was to develop a methodology that combines task fMRI and arterial spin labeling (ASL) techniques to sensitize task-induced BOLD activity by covarying out the baseline physiology (i.e., CBF) in an aging model. We recruited 11 younger and 13 older healthy participants who underwent ASL and an overt language fMRI task (semantic category member generation). We measured in-scanner language performance to investigate the effect of BOLD sensitization on BOLD-behavior relationships. The results demonstrate that our correction approach is effective at enhancing the specificity and sensitivity of the BOLD signal in both groups. In addition, the correction strengthens the statistical association between task BOLD activity and behavioral performance. Although CBF has inherent age dependence, our results show that retaining the age factor within CBF aides in greater sensitization of task fMRI signals. From a cognitive standpoint, compared to young adults, the older participants showed a delayed domain-general language-related task activity possibly due to compromised vessel compliance. Further, assessment of functional evolution of corrected BOLD activity revealed biphasic BOLD dynamics in both groups where BOLD deactivation may reflect greater semantic demand or increased premium on domain general executive functioning in response to task difficulty. Although it was promising to note that the predictability of behavior using the proposed methodology outperforms other methodologies (i.e., no correction and normalization by division), and provides moderate stability and adequate power, further work with a larger cohort and other task designs is necessary to improve the stability of predicting associated behavior. In summary, we recommend correction of task fMRI signals by covarying out baseline CBF especially when comparing groups with different neurovascular properties. Given that ASL and BOLD fMRI are well established and widely employed techniques, our proposed multi-modal methodology can be readily implemented into data processing pipelines to obtain more accurate BOLD activation maps.
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    Author List

  • Krishnamurthy V; Krishnamurthy LC; Drucker JH; Kundu S; Ji B; Hortman K; Roberts SR; Mammino K; Tran SM; Gopinath K
  • Volume

  • 14