Rapid whole-brain resting-state fMRI at 3 T: Efficiency-optimized three-dimensional EPI versus repetition time-matched simultaneous-multi-slice EPI
State-of-the-art simultaneous-multi-slice (SMS-)EPI and 3D-EPI share several properties that benefit functional MRI acquisition. Both sequences employ equivalent parallel imaging undersampling with controlled aliasing to achieve high temporal sampling rates. As a volumetric imaging sequence, 3D-EPI offers additional means of acceleration complementary to 2D-CAIPIRINHA sampling, such as fast water excitation and elliptical sampling. We performed an application-oriented comparison between a tailored, six-fold CAIPIRINHA-accelerated 3D-EPI protocol at 530 ms temporal and 2.4 mm isotropic spatial resolution and an SMS-EPI protocol with identical spatial and temporal resolution for whole-brain resting-state fMRI at 3 T. The latter required eight-fold slice acceleration to compensate for the lack of elliptical sampling and fast water excitation. Both sequences used vendor-supplied on-line image reconstruction. We acquired test/retest resting-state fMRI scans in ten volunteers, with simultaneous acquisition of cardiac and respiration data, subsequently used for optional physiological noise removal (nuisance regression). We found that the 3D-EPI protocol has significantly increased temporal signal-to-noise ratio throughout the brain as compared to the SMS-EPI protocol, especially when employing motion and nuisance regression. Both sequence types reliably identified known functional networks with stronger functional connectivity values for the 3D-EPI protocol. We conclude that the more time-efficient 3D-EPI primarily benefits from reduced parallel imaging noise due to a higher, actual k-space sampling density compared to SMS-EPI. The resultant BOLD sensitivity increase makes 3D-EPI a valuable alternative to SMS-EPI for whole-brain fMRI at 3 T, with voxel sizes well below 3 mm isotropic and sampling rates high enough to separate dominant cardiac signals from BOLD signals in the frequency domain.