How to assess the accuracy of volume conduction models? A validation study with stereotactic EEG data

Front Hum Neurosci. 2024 Feb 12:18:1279183. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2024.1279183. eCollection 2024.


Introduction: Volume conduction models of the human head are used in various neuroscience fields, such as for source reconstruction in EEG and MEG, and for modeling the effects of brain stimulation. Numerous studies have quantified the accuracy and sensitivity of volume conduction models by analyzing the effects of the geometrical and electrical features of the head model, the sensor model, the source model, and the numerical method. Most studies are based on simulations as it is hard to obtain sufficiently detailed measurements to compare to models. The recording of stereotactic EEG during electric stimulation mapping provides an opportunity for such empirical validation.

Methods: In the study presented here, we used the potential distribution of volume-conducted artifacts that are due to cortical stimulation to evaluate the accuracy of finite element method (FEM) volume conduction models. We adopted a widely used strategy for numerical comparison, i.e., we fixed the geometrical description of the head model and the mathematical method to perform simulations, and we gradually altered the head models, by increasing the level of detail of the conductivity profile. We compared the simulated potentials at different levels of refinement with the measured potentials in three epilepsy patients.

Results: Our results show that increasing the level of detail of the volume conduction head model only marginally improves the accuracy of the simulated potentials when compared to in-vivo sEEG measurements. The mismatch between measured and simulated potentials is, throughout all patients and models, maximally 40 microvolts (i.e., 10% relative error) in 80% of the stimulation-recording combination pairs and it is modulated by the distance between recording and stimulating electrodes.

Discussion: Our study suggests that commonly used strategies used to validate volume conduction models based solely on simulations might give an overly optimistic idea about volume conduction model accuracy. We recommend more empirical validations to be performed to identify those factors in volume conduction models that have the highest impact on the accuracy of simulated potentials. We share the dataset to allow researchers to further investigate the mismatch between measurements and FEM models and to contribute to improving volume conduction models.

Keywords: EEG; empirical validation; finite element method; head model; stereotactic EEG; volume conduction.

Grants and funding

The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This work was supported by the Dutch Research Council grant STW (grant no. P14-12) and the EU Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA)-ITN-2014-ETN Programme, project “ChildBrain” (grant no. 641652).