Is Granger Causality a Viable Technique for Analyzing fMRI Data?

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 4;8(7):e67428. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067428. Print 2013.

Abstract

Multivariate neural data provide the basis for assessing interactions in brain networks. Among myriad connectivity measures, Granger causality (GC) has proven to be statistically intuitive, easy to implement, and generate meaningful results. Although its application to functional MRI (fMRI) data is increasing, several factors have been identified that appear to hinder its neural interpretability: (a) latency differences in hemodynamic response function (HRF) across different brain regions, (b) low-sampling rates, and (c) noise. Recognizing that in basic and clinical neuroscience, it is often the change of a dependent variable (e.g., GC) between experimental conditions and between normal and pathology that is of interest, we address the question of whether there exist systematic relationships between GC at the fMRI level and that at the neural level. Simulated neural signals were convolved with a canonical HRF, down-sampled, and noise-added to generate simulated fMRI data. As the coupling parameters in the model were varied, fMRI GC and neural GC were calculated, and their relationship examined. Three main results were found: (1) GC following HRF convolution is a monotonically increasing function of neural GC; (2) this monotonicity can be reliably detected as a positive correlation when realistic fMRI temporal resolution and noise level were used; and (3) although the detectability of monotonicity declined due to the presence of HRF latency differences, substantial recovery of detectability occurred after correcting for latency differences. These results suggest that Granger causality is a viable technique for analyzing fMRI data when the questions are appropriately formulated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Computer Simulation
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Signal-To-Noise Ratio
  • Time Factors