Resting-state functional connectivity analysis has become a widely used method for the investigation of human brain connectivity and pathology. The measurement of neuronal activity by functional MRI, however, is impeded by various nuisance signals that reduce the stability of functional connectivity. Several methods exist to address this predicament, but little consensus has yet been reached on the most appropriate approach. Given the crucial importance of reliability for the development of clinical applications, we here investigated the effect of various confound removal approaches on the test-retest reliability of functional-connectivity estimates in two previously defined functional brain networks. Our results showed that gray matter masking improved the reliability of connectivity estimates, whereas denoising based on principal components analysis reduced it. We additionally observed that refraining from using any correction for global signals provided the best test-retest reliability, but failed to reproduce anti-correlations between what have been previously described as antagonistic networks. This suggests that improved reliability can come at the expense of potentially poorer biological validity. Consistent with this, we observed that reliability was proportional to the retained variance, which presumably included structured noise, such as reliable nuisance signals (for instance, noise induced by cardiac processes). We conclude that compromises are necessary between maximizing test-retest reliability and removing variance that may be attributable to non-neuronal sources.
Keywords: Confound removal; Reliability; Resting-state functional connectivity; Test–retest; fMRI.