Intrinsic Functional Connectivity As A Tool For Human Connectomics: Theory, Properties, And Optimization
Resting state functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI) is widely used to investigate brain networks that exhibit correlated fluctuations. While fcMRI does not provide direct measurement of anatomic connectivity, accumulating evidence suggests it is sufficiently constrained by anatomy to allow the architecture of distinct brain systems to be characterized. fcMRI is particularly useful for characterizing large-scale systems that span distributed areas (e.g., polysynaptic cortical pathways, cerebro-cerebellar circuits, cortical-thalamic circuits) and has complementary strengths when contrasted with the other major tool available for human connectomics—high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI). We review what is known about fcMRI and then explore fcMRI data reliability, effects of preprocessing, analysis procedures, and effects of different acquisition parameters across six studies ( n = 98) to provide recommendations for optimization. Run length (2–12 min), run structure (1 12-min run or 2 6-min runs), temporal resolution (2.5 or 5.0 s), spatial resolution (2 or 3 mm), and the task (fixation, eyes closed rest, eyes open rest, continuous word-classification) were varied. Results revealed moderate to high test-retest reliability. Run structure, temporal resolution, and spatial resolution minimally influenced fcMRI results while fixation and eyes open rest yielded stronger correlations as contrasted to other task conditions. Commonly used preprocessing steps involving regression of nuisance signals minimized nonspecific (noise) correlations including those associated with respiration. The most surprising finding was that estimates of correlation strengths stabilized with acquisition times as brief as 5 min. The brevity and robustness of fcMRI positions it as a powerful tool for large-scale explorations of genetic influences on brain architecture. We conclude by discussing the strengths and limitations of fcMRI and how it can be combined with HARDI techniques to support the emerging field of human connectomics.