Methodological challenges and solutions in auditory functional magnetic resonance imaging

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Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies involve substantial acoustic noise. This review covers the difficulties posed by such noise for auditory neuroscience, as well as a number of possible solutions that have emerged. Acoustic noise can affect the processing of auditory stimuli by making them inaudible or unintelligible, and can result in reduced sensitivity to auditory activation in auditory cortex. Equally importantly, acoustic noise may also lead to increased listening effort, meaning that even when auditory stimuli are perceived, neural processing may differ from when the same stimuli are presented in quiet. These and other challenges have motivated a number of approaches for collecting auditory fMRI data. Although using a continuous echoplanar imaging (EPI) sequence provides high quality imaging data, these data may also be contaminated by background acoustic noise. Traditional sparse imaging has the advantage of avoiding acoustic noise during stimulus presentation, but at a cost of reduced temporal resolution. Recently, three classes of techniques have been developed to circumvent these limitations. The first is Interleaved Silent Steady State (ISSS) imaging, a variation of sparse imaging that involves collecting multiple volumes following a silent period while maintaining steady-state longitudinal magnetization. The second involves active noise control to limit the impact of acoustic scanner noise. Finally, novel MRI sequences that reduce the amount of acoustic noise produced during fMRI make the use of continuous scanning a more practical option. Together these advances provide unprecedented opportunities for researchers to collect high-quality data of hemodynamic responses to auditory stimuli using fMRI.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle 253
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue number8 JUL
StatePublished - 2014


  • Auditory cortex
  • Auditory perception
  • Executive function
  • Hearing
  • Music
  • Speech


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