Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is now capable of sub-millimetre scale measurements over the entire human brain, however with such high resolutions each voxel is influenced by the local fine-scale details of the cerebral cortical vascular anatomy. The cortical vasculature is structured with the pial vessels lying tangentially along the grey matter surface, intracortical diving arterioles and ascending venules running perpendicularly to the surface, and a randomly oriented capillary network within the parenchyma. It is well-known that the amplitude of the blood-oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signal emanating from a vessel depends on its orientation relative to the B0-field. Thus the vascular geometric hierarchy will impart an orientation dependence to the BOLD signal amplitudes and amplitude differences due to orientation differences constitute a bias for interpreting neuronal activity. Here, we demonstrate a clear effect of cortical orientation to B0 in the resting-state BOLD-fMRI amplitude (quantified as the coefficient of temporal signal variation) for 1.1 mm isotropic data at 7T and 2 mm isotropic at 3T. The maximum bias, i.e. the fluctuation amplitude difference between regions where cortex is perpendicular to vs. parallel to B0, is about +70% at the pial surface at 7T and +11% at 3T. The B0 orientation bias declines with cortical depth, becomes progressively smaller closer to the white matter surface, but then increases again to a local maximum within the white matter just beneath the cortical grey matter, suggesting a distinct tangential network of white matter vessels that also generate a BOLD orientation effect. We further found significant (negative) biases with the cortex orientation to the anterior-posterior anatomical axis of the head: a maximum negative bias of about -30% at the pial surface at 7T and about -13% at 3T. The amount of signal variance explained by the low frequency drift, motion and the respiratory cycle also showed a cortical orientation dependence; only the cardiac cycle induced signal variance was independent of cortical orientation, suggesting that the cardiac induced component of the image time-series fluctuations is not related to a significant change in susceptibility. Although these orientation effects represent a signal bias, and are likely to be a nuisance in high-resolution analyses, they may help characterize the vascular influences on candidate fMRI acquisitions and, thereby, may be exploited to improve the neuronal specificity of fMRI.
Keywords: BOLD; High resolution; Laminar fMRI; Orientation effects; Resting-state fMRI.
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