FMRI BOLD responses to changes in neural activity are influenced by the reactivity of the vasculature. By complementing a task-related BOLD acquisition with a vascular reactivity measure obtained through breath-holding or hypercapnia, this unwanted variance can be statistically reduced in the BOLD responses of interest. Recently, it has been suggested that vascular reactivity can also be estimated using a resting state scan.
This study aimed to compare three breath-hold based analysis approaches (block design, sine–cosine regressor and CO2 regressor) and a resting state approach (CO2 regressor) to measure vascular reactivity. We tested BOLD variance explained by the model and repeatability of the measures. Fifteen healthy participants underwent a breath-hold task and a resting state scan with end-tidal CO2 being recorded during both. Vascular reactivity was defined as CO2-related BOLD percent signal change/mm Hg change in CO2.
Maps and regional vascular reactivity estimates showed high repeatability when the breath-hold task was used. Repeatability and variance explained by the CO2 trace regressor were lower for the resting state data based approach, which resulted in highly variable measures of vascular reactivity.
We conclude that breath-hold based vascular reactivity estimations are more repeatable than resting-based estimates, and that there are limitations with replacing breath-hold scans by resting state scans for vascular reactivity assessment.