Physiological noise correction using ECG-derived respiratory signals for enhanced mapping of spontaneous neuronal activity with simultaneous EEG-fMRI

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The study of spontaneous brain activity based on BOLD-fMRI may be seriously compromised by the presence of signal fluctuations of non-neuronal origin, most prominently due to cardiac and respiratory mechanisms. Methods used for modeling and correction of the so-called physiological noise usually rely on the concurrent measurement of cardiac and respiratory signals. In simultaneous EEG-fMRI recordings, which are primarily aimed at the study of spontaneous brain activity, the electrocardiogram (ECG) is typically measured as part of the EEG setup but respiratory data are not generally available. Here, we propose to use the ECG-derived respiratory (EDR) signal estimated by Empirical Mode Decomposition (EMD) as a surrogate of the respiratory signal, for retrospective physiological noise correction of typical simultaneous EEG-fMRI data. A physiological noise model based on these physiological signals (P-PNM) complemented with fMRI-derived noise regressors was generated, and evaluated, for 17 simultaneous EEG-fMRI datasets acquired from a group of seven epilepsy patients imaged at 3 T. The respiratory components of P-PNM were found to explain BOLD variance significantly in addition to the cardiac components, suggesting that the EDR signal was successfully extracted from the ECG, and P-PNM outperformed an image-based model (I-PNM) in terms of total BOLD variance explained. Further, the impact of the correction using P-PNM on fMRI mapping of patient-specific epileptic networks and the resting-state default mode network (DMN) was assessed in terms of sensitivity and specificity and, when compared with an ICA-based procedure and a standard pre-processing pipeline, P-PNM achieved the best performance. Overall, our results support the feasibility and utility of extracting physiological noise models of the BOLD signal resorting to ECG data exclusively, with substantial impact on the simultaneous EEG-fMRI mapping of resting-state networks, and, most importantly, epileptic networks where sensitivity and specificity are still limited.

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