Reduction of across-run variability of temporal SNR in accelerated EPI time-series data through FLEET-based robust autocalibration

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Temporal signal-to-noise ratio (tSNR) is a key metric for assessing the ability to detect brain activation in fMRI data. A recent study has shown substantial variation of tSNR between multiple runs of accelerated EPI acquisitions reconstructed with the GRAPPA method using protocols commonly used for fMRI experiments. Across-run changes in the location of high-tSNR regions could lead to misinterpretation of the observed brain activation patterns, reduced sensitivity of the fMRI studies, and biased results. We compared conventional EPI autocalibration (ACS) methods with the recently-introduced FLEET ACS method, measuring their tSNR variability, as well as spatial overlap and displacement of high-tSNR clusters across runs in datasets acquired from human subjects at 7T and 3T. FLEET ACS reconstructed data had higher tSNR levels, as previously reported, as well as better temporal consistency and larger overlap of the high-tSNR clusters across runs compared with reconstructions using conventional multi-shot (ms) EPI ACS data. tSNR variability across two different runs of the same protocol using ms-EPI ACS data was about two times larger than for the protocol using FLEET ACS for acceleration factors (R) 2 and 3, and one and half times larger for R=4. The level of across-run tSNR consistency for data reconstructed with FLEET ACS was similar to within-run tSNR consistency. The displacement of high-tSNR clusters across two runs (inter-cluster distance) decreased from ˜8 mm in the time-series reconstructed using conventional ms-EPI ACS data to ˜4 mm for images reconstructed using FLEET ACS. However, the performance gap between conventional ms-EPI ACS and FLEET ACS narrowed with increasing parallel imaging acceleration factor. Overall, the FLEET ACS method provides a simple solution to the problem of varying tSNR across runs, and therefore helps ensure that an assumption of fMRI analysis—that tSNR is largely consistent across runs—is met for accelerated acquisitions.

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