Sensitivity in BOLD fMRI is characterized by the signal to noise ratio (SNR) of the time-series (tSNR), which contains fluctuations from thermal and physiological noise sources. Alteration of an acquisition parameter can affect the tSNR differently depending on the relative magnitude of the physiological and thermal noise, therefore knowledge of this ratio is essential for optimizing fMRI acquisitions. In this study, we compare image and time-series SNR from array coils at 3T with and without parallel imaging (GRAPPA) as a function of image resolution and acceleration. We use the "absolute unit" SNR method of Kellman and McVeigh to calculate the image SNR (SNR(0)) in a way that renders it comparable to tSNR, allowing determination of the thermal to physiological noise ratio, and the pseudo-multiple replica method to quantify the image noise alterations due to the GRAPPA reconstruction. The Kruger and Glover noise model, in which the physiological noise standard deviation is proportional to signal strength, was found to hold for the accelerated and non-accelerated array coil data. Thermal noise dominated the EPI time-series for medium to large voxel sizes for single-channel and 12-channel head coil configurations, but physiological noise dominated the 32-channel array acquisition even at 1 mm × 1mm × 3 mm resolution. At higher acceleration factors, image SNR is reduced and the time-series becomes increasingly thermal noise dominant. However, the tSNR reduction is smaller than the reduction in image SNR due to the presence of physiological noise.
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