The global signal and observed anticorrelated resting state brain networks

J Neurophysiol. 2009 Jun;101(6):3270-83. doi: 10.1152/jn.90777.2008. Epub 2009 Apr 1.


Resting state studies of spontaneous fluctuations in the functional MRI (fMRI) blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal have shown great promise in mapping the brain's intrinsic, large-scale functional architecture. An important data preprocessing step used to enhance the quality of these observations has been removal of spontaneous BOLD fluctuations common to the whole brain (the so-called global signal). One reproducible consequence of global signal removal has been the finding that spontaneous BOLD fluctuations in the default mode network and an extended dorsal attention system are consistently anticorrelated, a relationship that these two systems exhibit during task performance. The dependence of these resting-state anticorrelations on global signal removal has raised important questions regarding the nature of the global signal, the validity of global signal removal, and the appropriate interpretation of observed anticorrelated brain networks. In this study, we investigate several properties of the global signal and find that it is, indeed, global, not residing preferentially in systems exhibiting anticorrelations. We detail the influence of global signal removal on resting state correlation maps both mathematically and empirically, showing an enhancement in detection of system-specific correlations and improvement in the correspondence between resting-state correlations and anatomy. Finally, we show that several characteristics of anticorrelated networks including their spatial distribution, cross-subject consistency, presence with modified whole brain masks, and existence before global regression are not attributable to global signal removal and therefore suggest a biological basis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Nerve Net / blood supply
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / blood supply
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Rest / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic


  • Oxygen