Optimizing experimental design for comparing models of brain function

PLoS Comput Biol. 2011 Nov;7(11):e1002280. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002280. Epub 2011 Nov 17.


This article presents the first attempt to formalize the optimization of experimental design with the aim of comparing models of brain function based on neuroimaging data. We demonstrate our approach in the context of Dynamic Causal Modelling (DCM), which relates experimental manipulations to observed network dynamics (via hidden neuronal states) and provides an inference framework for selecting among candidate models. Here, we show how to optimize the sensitivity of model selection by choosing among experimental designs according to their respective model selection accuracy. Using Bayesian decision theory, we (i) derive the Laplace-Chernoff risk for model selection, (ii) disclose its relationship with classical design optimality criteria and (iii) assess its sensitivity to basic modelling assumptions. We then evaluate the approach when identifying brain networks using DCM. Monte-Carlo simulations and empirical analyses of fMRI data from a simple bimanual motor task in humans serve to demonstrate the relationship between network identification and the optimal experimental design. For example, we show that deciding whether there is a feedback connection requires shorter epoch durations, relative to asking whether there is experimentally induced change in a connection that is known to be present. Finally, we discuss limitations and potential extensions of this work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Computational Biology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design / standards