fMRI data visualization with BrainBlend and Blender.
The visualization and exploration of neuroimaging data is important for the analysis of anatomical and functional magnetic resonance (MR) images and thresholded statistical parametric maps. While two-dimensional orthogonal views of neuroimaging data are used to display statistical analyses, real three-dimensional (3d) depictions are helpful for showing the spatial distribution of a functional network, as well as its temporal evolution. However, viewers that are freely available on the internet offer only limited rendering capabilities and depictions of temporal changes of the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response. In this article, we present BrainBlend, a toolbox for the software package Statistical Parametric Mapping (SPM), that generates voxeldata files to be used with the open-source 3d-software "Blender". Our interface between SPM and Blender permits the use of any Analyze- and Nifti-file for the creation of images and animations of transparent volumetric objects. Different kinds of anatomical, functional and statistical data can be rendered as volumetric objects in order to convey an immediate understanding of the three-dimensional shape. Representations of functional networks can be animated using a time course extracted from the general linear model or the independent component analysis. Relative BOLD activations of functional MR-images can be calculated for a time-resolved depiction of hemodynamic changes. The resulting animation can be displayed along with its corresponding paradigm matrix and the presented stimuli. BrainBlend is particularly suitable for the visual exploration of interactions between functional networks, for time-resolved animations of BOLD changes and meets high demands on visual quality in images and animations.