A practical modification to a resting state fMRI protocol for improved characterization of cerebrovascular function

Rachael C. Stickland*, Kristina M. Zvolanek, Stefano Moia, Apoorva Ayyagari, César Caballero-Gaudes, Molly G. Bright

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Cerebrovascular reactivity (CVR), defined here as the Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent (BOLD) response to a CO2 pressure change, is a useful metric of cerebrovascular function. Both the amplitude and the timing (hemodynamic lag) of the CVR response can bring insight into the nature of a cerebrovascular pathology and aid in understanding noise confounds when using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study neural activity. This research assessed a practical modification to a typical resting-state fMRI protocol, to improve the characterization of cerebrovascular function. In 9 healthy subjects, we modelled CVR and lag in three resting-state data segments, and in data segments which added a 2–3 minute breathing task to the start of a resting-state segment. Two different breathing tasks were used to induce fluctuations in arterial CO2 pressure: a breath-hold task to induce hypercapnia (CO2 increase) and a cued deep breathing task to induce hypocapnia (CO2 decrease). Our analysis produced voxel-wise estimates of the amplitude (CVR) and timing (lag) of the BOLD-fMRI response to CO2 by systematically shifting the CO2 regressor in time to optimize the model fit. This optimization inherently increases gray matter CVR values and fit statistics. The inclusion of a simple breathing task, compared to a resting-state scan only, increases the number of voxels in the brain that have a significant relationship between CO2 and BOLD-fMRI signals, and improves our confidence in the plausibility of voxel-wise CVR and hemodynamic lag estimates. We demonstrate the clinical utility and feasibility of this protocol in an incidental finding of Moyamoya disease, and explore the possibilities and challenges of using this protocol in younger populations. This hybrid protocol has direct applications for CVR mapping in both research and clinical settings and wider applications for fMRI denoising and interpretation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118306
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • Breathing tasks
  • CO
  • Cerebrovascular reactivity
  • Hemodynamic lag
  • Resting-state

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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