With sufficient image encoding, high-resolution fMRI studies are limited by the biological point-spread of the hemodynamic signal. The extent of this spread is determined by the local vascular distribution and by the spatial specificity of blood flow regulation, as well as by measurement parameters that (i) alter the relative sensitivity of the acquisition to activation-induced hemodynamic changes and (ii) determine the image contrast as a function of vessel size. In particular, large draining vessels on the cortical surface are a major contributor to both the BOLD signal change and to the spatial bias of the BOLD activation away from the site of neuronal activity. In this work, we introduce a laminar surface-based analysis method and study the relationship between spatial localization and activation strength as a function of laminar depth by acquiring 1mm isotropic, single-shot EPI at 7 T and sampling the BOLD signal exclusively from the superficial, middle, or deep cortical laminae. We show that highly-accelerated EPI can limit image distortions to the point where a boundary-based registration algorithm accurately aligns the EPI data to the surface reconstruction. The spatial spread of the BOLD response tangential to the cortical surface was analyzed as a function of cortical depth using our surface-based analysis. Although sampling near the pial surface provided the highest signal strength, it also introduced the most spatial error. Thus, avoiding surface laminae improved spatial localization by about 40% at a cost of 36% in z-statistic, implying that optimal spatial resolution in functional imaging of the cortex can be achieved using anatomically-informed spatial sampling to avoid large pial vessels.
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