Measuring vascular reactivity with breath-holds after stroke: A method to aid interpretation of group-level BOLD signal changes in longitudinal fMRI studies

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Abstract

Blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrast functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a widely used technique to map brain function, and to monitor its recovery after stroke. Since stroke has a vascular etiology, the neurovascular coupling between cerebral blood flow and neural activity may be altered, resulting in uncertainties when interpreting longitudinal BOLD signal changes. The purpose of this study was to demonstrate the feasibility of using a recently validated breath-hold task in patients with stroke, both to assess group level changes in cerebrovascular reactivity (CVR) and to determine if alterations in regional CVR over time will adversely affect interpretation of task-related BOLD signal changes. Three methods of analyzing the breath-hold data were evaluated. The CVR measures were compared over healthy tissue, infarcted tissue and the peri-infarct tissue, both sub-acutely (∼2 weeks) and chronically (∼4 months). In this cohort, a lack of CVR differences in healthy tissue between the patients and controls indicates that any group level BOLD signal change observed in these regions over time is unlikely to be related to vascular alterations. CVR was reduced in the peri-infarct tissue but remained unchanged over time. Therefore, although a lack of activation in this region compared with the controls may be confounded by a reduced CVR, longitudinal group-level BOLD changes may be more confidently attributed to neural activity changes in this cohort. By including this breath-hold-based CVR assessment protocol in future studies of stroke recovery, researchers can be more assured that longitudinal changes in BOLD signal reflect true alterations in neural activity.

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Geranmayeh, F., Wise, R. J. S., Leech, R., & Murphy, K. (2015). Measuring vascular reactivity with breath-holds after stroke: A method to aid interpretation of group-level BOLD signal changes in longitudinal fMRI studies. Human Brain Mapping, 36(5), 1755–1771. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.22735

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