Global and system-specific resting-state fMRI fluctuations are uncorrelated: principal component analysis reveals anti-correlated networks

Brain Connect. 2011;1(6):496-510. doi: 10.1089/brain.2011.0065. Epub 2012 Mar 23.


The influence of the global average signal (GAS) on functional-magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)-based resting-state functional connectivity is a matter of ongoing debate. The global average fluctuations increase the correlation between functional systems beyond the correlation that reflects their specific functional connectivity. Hence, removal of the GAS is a common practice for facilitating the observation of network-specific functional connectivity. This strategy relies on the implicit assumption of a linear-additive model according to which global fluctuations, irrespective of their origin, and network-specific fluctuations are super-positioned. However, removal of the GAS introduces spurious negative correlations between functional systems, bringing into question the validity of previous findings of negative correlations between fluctuations in the default-mode and the task-positive networks. Here we present an alternative method for estimating global fluctuations, immune to the complications associated with the GAS. Principal components analysis was applied to resting-state fMRI time-series. A global-signal effect estimator was defined as the principal component (PC) that correlated best with the GAS. The mean correlation coefficient between our proposed PC-based global effect estimator and the GAS was 0.97±0.05, demonstrating that our estimator successfully approximated the GAS. In 66 out of 68 runs, the PC that showed the highest correlation with the GAS was the first PC. Since PCs are orthogonal, our method provides an estimator of the global fluctuations, which is uncorrelated to the remaining, network-specific fluctuations. Moreover, unlike the regression of the GAS, the regression of the PC-based global effect estimator does not introduce spurious anti-correlations beyond the decrease in seed-based correlation values allowed by the assumed additive model. After regressing this PC-based estimator out of the original time-series, we observed robust anti-correlations between resting-state fluctuations in the default-mode and the task-positive networks. We conclude that resting-state global fluctuations and network-specific fluctuations are uncorrelated, supporting a Resting-State Linear-Additive Model. In addition, we conclude that the network-specific resting-state fluctuations of the default-mode and task-positive networks show artifact-free anti-correlations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Principal Component Analysis / methods*