Decoding Activity in Broca's Area Predicts the Occurrence of Auditory Hallucinations Across Subjects

Biol Psychiatry. 2022 Jan 15;91(2):194-201. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2021.08.024. Epub 2021 Sep 8.

Abstract

Background: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) capture aims at detecting auditory-verbal hallucinations (AVHs) from continuously recorded brain activity. Establishing efficient capture methods with low computational cost that easily generalize between patients remains a key objective in precision psychiatry. To address this issue, we developed a novel automatized fMRI-capture procedure for AVHs in patients with schizophrenia (SCZ).

Methods: We used a previously validated but labor-intensive personalized fMRI-capture method to train a linear classifier using machine learning techniques. We benchmarked the performances of this classifier on 2320 AVH periods versus resting-state periods obtained from SCZ patients with frequent symptoms (n = 23). We characterized patterns of blood oxygen level-dependent activity that were predictive of AVH both within and between subjects. Generalizability was assessed with a second independent sample gathering 2000 AVH labels (n = 34 patients with SCZ), while specificity was tested with a nonclinical control sample performing an auditory imagery task (840 labels, n = 20).

Results: Our between-subject classifier achieved high decoding accuracy (area under the curve = 0.85) and discriminated AVH from rest and verbal imagery. Optimizing the parameters on the first schizophrenia dataset and testing its performance on the second dataset led to an out-of-sample area under the curve of 0.85 (0.88 for the converse test). We showed that AVH detection critically depends on local blood oxygen level-dependent activity patterns within Broca's area.

Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that it is possible to reliably detect AVH states from fMRI blood oxygen level-dependent signals in patients with SCZ using a multivariate decoder without performing complex preprocessing steps. These findings constitute a crucial step toward brain-based treatments for severe drug-resistant hallucinations.

Keywords: Biomarker; Detection; Hallucinations; Inferior frontal gyrus; Multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA); Voice hearing; fMRI.