Quality assurance (QA) is crucial in longitudinal and/or multi-site studies, which involve the collection of data from a group of subjects over time and/or at different locations. It is important to regularly monitor the performance of the scanners over time and at different locations to detect and control for intrinsic differences (e.g., due to manufacturers) and changes in scanner performance (e.g., due to gradual component aging, software and/or hardware upgrades, etc.). As part of the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI) and the Canadian Biomarker Integration Network in Depression (CAN-BIND), QA phantom scans were conducted approximately monthly for three to four years at 13 sites across Canada with 3T research MRI scanners. QA parameters were calculated for each scan using the functional Biomarker Imaging Research Network's (fBIRN) QA phantom and pipeline to capture between- and within-scanner variability. We also describe a QA protocol to measure the full-width-at-half-maximum (FWHM) of slice-wise point spread functions (PSF), used in conjunction with the fBIRN QA parameters. Variations in image resolution measured by the FWHM are a primary source of variance over time for many sites, as well as between sites and between manufacturers. We also identify an unexpected range of instabilities affecting individual slices in a number of scanners, which may amount to a substantial contribution of unexplained signal variance to their data. Finally, we identify a preliminary preprocessing approach to reduce this variance and/or alleviate the slice anomalies, and in a small human data set show that this change in preprocessing can have a significant impact on seed-based connectivity measurements for some individual subjects. We expect that other fMRI centres will find this approach to identifying and controlling scanner instabilities useful in similar studies.
Keywords: MRI scanner instabilities; Multi-center/Longitudinal fMRI studies; Resting state fMRI; fMRI quality assurance.
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