Publication Type: Journal Article
Source: NeuroImage, Volume 54, Issue 4, p.2764 - 2778 (2011)
This work addresses the choice of imaging flip angle in blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). When noise of physiological origin becomes the dominant noise source in fMRI timeseries, it causes a nonlinear dependence of the temporal signal-to-noise ratio (TSNR) versus signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) that can be exploited to perform BOLD fMRI at angles well below the Ernst angle without any detrimental effect on our ability to detect sites of neuronal activation. We show, both experimentally and theoretically, that for situations where available SNR is high and physiological noise dominates over system/thermal noise, although TSNR still reaches it maximum for the Ernst angle, reduction of imaging flip angle well below this angle results in negligible loss in TSNR. Moreover, we provide a way to compute a suggested imaging flip angle, which constitutes a conservative estimate of the minimum flip angle that can be used under given experimental SNR and physiological noise levels. For our experimental conditions, this suggested angle equals 7.63° for the grey matter compartment, while the Ernst angle=77°. Finally, using data from eight subjects with a combined visual-motor task we show that imaging at angles as low as 9° introduces no significant differences in observed hemodynamic response time-course, contrast-to-noise ratio, voxel-wise effect size or statistical maps of activation as compared to imaging at 75° (an angle close to the Ernst angle). These results suggest that using low flip angles in BOLD fMRI experimentation to obtain benefits such as (1) reduction of RF power, (2) limitation of apparent T(1)-related inflow effects, (3) reduction of through-plane motion artifacts, (4) lower levels of physiological noise, and (5) improved tissue contrast is feasible when physiological noise dominates and SNR is high.