Effects of Spatial Pattern Scale of Brain Activity on the Sensitivity of DOT, fMRI, EEG and MEG

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The objective of this work is to quantify how patterns of cortical activity at different spatial scales are measured by noninvasive functional neuroimaging sensors. We simulated cortical activation patterns at nine different spatial scales in a realistic head model and propagated this activity to magnetoencephalography (MEG), electroencephalography (EEG), diffuse optical tomography (DOT), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) sensors in arrangements that are typically used in functional neuroimaging studies. We estimated contrast transfer functions (CTF), correlation distances in sensor space, and the minimum resolvable spatial scale of cortical activity for each modality. We found that CTF decreases as the spatial extent of cortical activity decreases, and that correlations between nearby sensors depend on the spatial extent of cortical activity. For cortical activity on the intermediate spatial scale of 6.7 cm2, the correlation distances (r>0.5) were 1.0 cm for fMRI, 2.0 cm for DOT, 12.8 for EEG, 9.5 cm for MEG magnetometers and 9.7 cm for MEG gradiometers. The resolvable spatial pattern scale was found to be 1.43 cm2 for MEG magnetometers, 0.88 cm2 for MEG gradiometers, 376 cm2 for EEG, 0.75 cm2 for DOT, and 0.072 cm2 for fMRI. These findings show that sensitivity to cortical activity varies substantially as a function of spatial scale within and between the different imaging modalities. This information should be taken into account when interpreting neuroimaging data and when choosing the number of nodes for network analyses in sensor space.