Generative embedding for model-based classification of fMRI data

PLoS Comput Biol. 2011 Jun;7(6):e1002079. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002079. Epub 2011 Jun 23.


Decoding models, such as those underlying multivariate classification algorithms, have been increasingly used to infer cognitive or clinical brain states from measures of brain activity obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The practicality of current classifiers, however, is restricted by two major challenges. First, due to the high data dimensionality and low sample size, algorithms struggle to separate informative from uninformative features, resulting in poor generalization performance. Second, popular discriminative methods such as support vector machines (SVMs) rarely afford mechanistic interpretability. In this paper, we address these issues by proposing a novel generative-embedding approach that incorporates neurobiologically interpretable generative models into discriminative classifiers. Our approach extends previous work on trial-by-trial classification for electrophysiological recordings to subject-by-subject classification for fMRI and offers two key advantages over conventional methods: it may provide more accurate predictions by exploiting discriminative information encoded in 'hidden' physiological quantities such as synaptic connection strengths; and it affords mechanistic interpretability of clinical classifications. Here, we introduce generative embedding for fMRI using a combination of dynamic causal models (DCMs) and SVMs. We propose a general procedure of DCM-based generative embedding for subject-wise classification, provide a concrete implementation, and suggest good-practice guidelines for unbiased application of generative embedding in the context of fMRI. We illustrate the utility of our approach by a clinical example in which we classify moderately aphasic patients and healthy controls using a DCM of thalamo-temporal regions during speech processing. Generative embedding achieves a near-perfect balanced classification accuracy of 98% and significantly outperforms conventional activation-based and correlation-based methods. This example demonstrates how disease states can be detected with very high accuracy and, at the same time, be interpreted mechanistically in terms of abnormalities in connectivity. We envisage that future applications of generative embedding may provide crucial advances in dissecting spectrum disorders into physiologically more well-defined subgroups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Algorithms*
  • Aphasia / physiopathology*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Speech Perception