PIRACY: An optimized pipeline for functional connectivity analysis in the rat brain
AUTHORS: Diao Y, Yin T, Gruetter R, Jelescu IO
Frontiers in Neuroscience, 15(602170): , March 2021
Resting state functional MRI (rs-fMRI) is a widespread and powerful tool for investigating functional connectivity (FC) and brain disorders. However, FC analysis can be seriously affected by random and structured noise from non-neural sources, such as physiology.
Thus, it is essential to first reduce thermal noise and then correctly identify and remove non-neural artifacts from rs-fMRI signals through optimized data processing methods.
However, existing tools that correct for these effects have been developed for human brain and are not readily transposable to rat data. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to establish a data processing pipeline that can robustly remove random and structured noise from rat rs-fMRI data. It includes a novel denoising approach based on the Marchenko-Pastur Principal Component Analysis (MP-PCA) method, FMRIB’s ICA-based Xnoiseifier (FIX) for automatic artifact classification and cleaning, and global signal regression (GSR). Our results show that: (I) MP-PCA denoising substantially improves the temporal signal-to-noise ratio, (II) the pre-trained FIX classifier achieves a high accuracy in artifact classification, and (III) both independent component analysis (ICA) cleaning and GSR are essential steps in correcting for possible artifacts and minimizing the within-group variability in control animals while maintaining typical connectivity patterns. Reduced within-group variability also facilitates the exploration of potential between-group FC changes, as illustrated here in a rat model of sporadic Alzheimer’s disease.