Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) gives us a unique insight into the processes of the brain, and opens up for analyzing the functional activation patterns of the underlying sources. Task-inferred supervised learning with restrictive assumptions in the regression set-up, restricts the exploratory nature of the analysis. Fully unsupervised independent component analysis (ICA) algorithms, on the other hand, can struggle to detect clear classifiable components on single-subject data. We attribute this shortcoming to inadequate modeling of the fMRI source signals by failing to incorporate its temporal nature. fMRI source signals, biological stimuli and non-stimuli-related artifacts are all smooth over a time-scale compatible with the sampling time (TR). We therefore propose Gaussian process ICA (GPICA), which facilitates temporal dependency by the use of Gaussian process source priors.
On two fMRI data sets with different sampling frequency, we show that the GPICA-inferred temporal components and associated spatial maps allow for a more definite interpretation than standard temporal ICA methods. The temporal structures of the sources are controlled by the covariance of the Gaussian process, specified by a kernel function with an interpretable and controllable temporal length scale parameter. We propose a hierarchical model specification, considering both instantaneous and convolutive mixing, and we infer source spatial maps, temporal patterns and temporal length scale parameters by Markov Chain Monte Carlo. A companion implementation made as a plug-in for SPM can be downloaded from https://github.com/dittehald/GPICA.