Scanning fast and slow: current limitations of 3 Tesla functional MRI and future potential

Roland N Boubela, Klaudius Kalcher, Christian Nasel, Ewald Moser

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

20 Citations (Scopus)


Functional MRI at 3T has become a workhorse for the neurosciences, e.g., neurology, psychology, and psychiatry, enabling non-invasive investigation of brain function and connectivity. However, BOLD-based fMRI is a rather indirect measure of brain function, confounded by physiology related signals, e.g., head or brain motion, brain pulsation, blood flow, intermixed with susceptibility differences close or distant to the region of neuronal activity. Even though a plethora of preprocessing strategies have been published to address these confounds, their efficiency is still under discussion. In particular, physiological signal fluctuations closely related to brain supply may mask BOLD signal changes related to "true" neuronal activation. Here we explore recent technical and methodological advancements aimed at disentangling the various components, employing fast multiband vs. standard EPI, in combination with fast temporal ICA. Our preliminary results indicate that fast (TR <0.5 s) scanning may help to identify and eliminate physiologic components, increasing tSNR and functional contrast. In addition, biological variability can be studied and task performance better correlated to other measures. This should increase specificity and reliability in fMRI studies. Furthermore, physiological signal changes during scanning may then be recognized as a source of information rather than a nuisance. As we are currently still undersampling the complexity of the brain, even at a rather coarse macroscopic level, we should be very cautious in the interpretation of neuroscientific findings, in particular when comparing different groups (e.g., age, sex, medication, pathology, etc.). From a technical point of view our goal should be to sample brain activity at layer specific resolution with low TR, covering as much of the brain as possible without violating SAR limits. We hope to stimulate discussion toward a better understanding and a more quantitative use of fMRI.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA001
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Physics
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2014


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