Comparing cerebrovascular reactivity measured using BOLD and cerebral blood flow MRI: The effect of basal vascular tension on vasodilatory and vasoconstrictive reactivity

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Cerebrovascular reactivity (CVR) is an important metric of cerebrovascular health. While the BOLD fMRI method in conjunction with carbon-dioxide (CO2) based vascular manipulation has been the most commonly used, the BOLD signal is not a direct measure of vascular changes, and the use of arterial-spin labeling (ASL) cerebral blood flow (CBF) imaging is increasingly advocated. Nonetheless, given the differing dependencies of BOLD and CBF on vascular baseline conditions and the diverse CO2 manipulation types currently used in the literature, knowledge of potential biases introduced by each technique is critical for the interpretation of CVR measurements. In this work, we use simultaneous BOLD-CBF acquisitions during both vasodilatory (hypercapnic) and vasoconstrictive (hypocapnic) stimuli to measure CVR. We further imposed different levels of baseline vascular tension by inducing hypercapnic and hypocapnic baselines, separately from normocapnia by 4 mm Hg. We saw significant and diverse dependencies on vascular stimulus and baseline condition in both BOLD and CBF CVR measurements: (i) BOLD-based CVR is more sensitive to basal vascular tension than CBF-based CVR; (ii) the use of a combination of vasodilatory and vasoconstrictive stimuli maximizes the sensitivity of CBF-based CVR to vascular tension changes; (iii) the BOLD and CBF vascular response delays are both significantly lengthened at predilated baseline. As vascular tension can often be altered by potential pathology, our findings are important considerations when interpreting CVR measurements in health and disease.

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