False cerebral activation on BOLD functional MR images: Study of low-amplitude motion weakly correlated to stimulus

A. S. Field, Y. F. Yen, J. H. Burdette, A. D. Elster

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61 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Movements of the participant during blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) functional MR imaging cerebral activation studies are known to produce occasionally regions of false activation, especially when these movements are relatively large (>3 mm) and highly correlated with the stimulus. We investigated whether minimal (<1 mm), weakly correlated movements in a controlled functional MR imaging model could produce false activation artifacts that could potentially mimic regions of true activation in size, location, and statistical significance. METHODS: A life-size brain phantom was constructed by embedding vials of a dilute carboxylic acid solution within a gadolinium-doped gelatin mold. Imaging was performed at 1.5 T using a 2D spiral sequence (3000/5 [TR/TE]; flip angle, 88°; matrix, 64 x 64; field of view, 24 cm; section thickness, 5 mm). Controlled, in-plane, submillimeter movements of the phantom were generated using a pneumatic system and were made to correlate with a hypothetical 'boxcar' stimulus over the range 0.31 < r < 0.96. Regions of false activation were sought using standard statistical methods (SPM96) that excluded phantom edges and accounted for spatial extent (regions tested at P < .05, corrected for multiple comparisons). A similar experiment was performed on a resting volunteer. RESULTS: The pneumatic system provided motion control with average in-plane displacements and rotations of 0.74 mm and 0.47°, respectively, in the 18 data sets analyzed. No areas of false activation in the phantom were identified for poorly correlated mortons (r < 0.52). Above this level, false activations occurred with increasing frequency, scaling in size and number with the degree of motion correlation. For motions with r > 0.67, areas of false activation were seen in every experiment. For a statistical threshold of P = .001, the median number of falsely activated regions was 3.5, with a mean size of 71.7 voxels (approximately 5 cc). Areas of possibly false activation of average size 72.5 voxels resulting from passive motion of the resting human participant were observed in two of four experiments. CONCLUSION: Participant movements of I mm or less that are only modestly correlated with a blocked stimulus paradigm can produce appreciable false activation artifacts on BOLD functional MR imaging studies, even when strict image realignment methods are used to prevent them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1388-1396
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Neuroradiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 2 2000


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