Statistical power or more precise insights into neuro-temporal dynamics? Assessing the benefits of rapid temporal sampling in fMRI

Prog Neurobiol. 2021 Dec;207:102171. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2021.102171. Epub 2021 Sep 4.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a non-invasive and widely used human neuroimaging method, is most known for its spatial precision. However, there is a growing interest in its temporal sensitivity. This is despite the temporal blurring of neuronal events by the blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal, the peak of which lags neuronal firing by 4-6 seconds. Given this, the goal of this review is to answer a seemingly simple question - "What are the benefits of increased temporal sampling for fMRI?". To answer this, we have combined fMRI data collected at multiple temporal scales, from 323 to 1000 milliseconds, with a review of both historical and contemporary temporal literature. After a brief discussion of technological developments that have rekindled interest in temporal research, we next consider the potential statistical and methodological benefits. Most importantly, we explore how fast fMRI can uncover previously unobserved neuro-temporal dynamics - effects that are entirely missed when sampling at conventional 1 to 2 second rates. With the intrinsic link between space and time in fMRI, this temporal renaissance also delivers improvements in spatial precision. Far from producing only statistical gains, the array of benefits suggest that the continued temporal work is worth the effort.

Keywords: Fast fMRI; Neuroscience; Rapid sampling; Spatiotemporal dynamics; Statistics; Temporal dynamics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods