Selective averaging of rapidly presented individual trials using fMRI

Hum Brain Mapp. 1997;5(5):329-40. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0193(1997)5:5<329::AID-HBM1>3.0.CO;2-5.


A major limitation in conducting functional neuroimaging studies, particularly for cognitive experiments, has been the use of blocked task paradigms. Here we explored whether selective averaging techniques similar to those applied in event-related potential (ERP) experiments could be used to demonstrate functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) responses to rapidly intermixed trials. In the first two experiments, we observed that for 1-sec trials of full-field visual checkerboard stimulation, the fMRI blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal summated in a roughly linear fashion across successive trials even at very short (2 sec and 5 sec) intertrial intervals, although subtle departures from linearity were observed. In experiments 3 and 4, we observed that it is possible to obtain robust activation maps for rapidly presented randomly mixed trial types (left- and right-hemifield visual checkerboard stimulation) spaced as little as 2 sec apart. Taken collectively, these results suggest that selective averaging may enable fMRI experimental designs identical to those used in typical behavioral and ERP studies. The ability to analyze closely spaced single-trial, or event-related, signals provides for a class of experiments which cannot be conducted using blocked designs. Trial types can be randomly intermixed, and selective averaging based upon trial type and/or subject performance is possible.