Whole brain fMRI analyses rarely include the entire brain because of missing data that result from data acquisition limits and susceptibility artifact, in particular. This missing data problem is typically addressed by omitting voxels from analysis, which may exclude brain regions that are of theoretical interest and increase the potential for Type II error at cortical boundaries or Type I error when spatial thresholds are used to establish significance. Imputation could significantly expand statistical map coverage, increase power, and enhance interpretations of fMRI results. We examined multiple imputation for group level analyses of missing fMRI data using methods that leverage the spatial information in fMRI datasets for both real and simulated data. Available case analysis, neighbor replacement, and regression based imputation approaches were compared in a general linear model framework to determine the extent to which these methods quantitatively (effect size) and qualitatively (spatial coverage) increased the sensitivity of group analyses. In both real and simulated data analysis, multiple imputation provided 1) variance that was most similar to estimates for voxels with no missing data, 2) fewer false positive errors in comparison to mean replacement, and 3) fewer false negative errors in comparison to available case analysis. Compared to the standard analysis approach of omitting voxels with missing data, imputation methods increased brain coverage in this study by 35% (from 33,323 to 45,071 voxels). In addition, multiple imputation increased the size of significant clusters by 58% and number of significant clusters across statistical thresholds, compared to the standard voxel omission approach. While neighbor replacement produced similar results, we recommend multiple imputation because it uses an informed sampling distribution to deal with missing data across subjects that can include neighbor values and other predictors. Multiple imputation is anticipated to be particularly useful for 1) large fMRI data sets with inconsistent missing voxels across subjects and 2) addressing the problem of increased artifact at ultra-high field, which significantly limit the extent of whole brain coverage and interpretations of results.
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