Thursday, November 29, 2012

surface or volume searchlighting ... not a mixture

I saw a report with an analysis that used volumetric searchlights (spheres) within a grey matter mask (like the one at the right, though theirs was somewhat more dilated). The cortical thickness in the mask was usually around 10 voxels, and they ran a 3-voxel radius searchlight.

I do not think this is a good idea.

My short general suggestion is to do either volumetric searchlighting of the whole brain (or a large 3D subset of it - like the frontal lobes), or do surface-based searchlighting (e.g. Chen, Oosterhof), but not mix the two.

A fundamental problem is that a fairly small proportion of the searchlights will be fully in the brain using a volumetric grey matter mask.
In this little cartoon the yellow circles represent the spherical searchlights, and the two grey lines the extent of the grey matter mask. Many searchlights do not fully fall into the mask; the edges will be sampled differently than the center.

This cartoon tries to convey the same idea: only the strip in the middle of the mask is mapped by searchlights completely in the brain. If informative voxels are evenly distributed in the grey matter strip, searchlights in the middle (fully in the brain) could be more likely to be significant (depending on the exact classifier, information distribution, etc.), a distorted impression.

I've heard it suggested that it's better to use a grey matter mask because that's where the information should be. I don't think that's a good motivation. For one thing, running the searchlight analysis on the whole brain can serve as a control: if the "most informative areas" turn out to be the ventricles, something went wrong. For another, spatial normalization is not perfect. Depending on how things are run (searchlight on spatially-normalized brains or not, etc), there is likely to be some blurring of white and grey matter in the functional images. Letting the searchlights span both may capture more of the information actually present.

One final point. Volumetric searchlighting will put non-strip-wise-adjacent areas (areas touching across a sulcus) into the same searchlight. This might be ok, given the spatial uncertainties accepted in some fMRI. But if you want to avoid this, surface-based methods are the way to go, not a volumetric grey matter mask.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jo,

    Good post, and I agree with the logic behind it. Do you have any thoughts on the existence of laminar pattern information? I doubt such a thing would be visible to fMRI (and I don't know of any studies that examine this), but volume -> surface transformations would eliminate any such information. In theory, standard BOLD imaging could sample a couple of voxels of depth, though not much more than that.

    Mike Klein