Nonlinear and network characterization of brain function using functional MRI
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Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has emerged as the method of choice to non-invasively investigate brain function in humans. Though brain is known to act as a nonlinear system, here has not been much effort to explore the applicability of nonlinear analysis techniques to fMRI data. Also, recent trends have suggested that functional localization as a model of brain function is incomplete and efforts are being made to develop models based on networks of regions to understand brain function. Therefore this thesis attempts to introduce the twin concepts of nonlinear dynamics and network analysis into a broad spectrum of fMRI data analysis techniques. First, we characterized the nonlinear univariate dynamics of fMRI noise using the concept of embedding to explain the origin of tissue-specific differences of baseline activity in the brain. The embedding concept was extended to the multivariate case to study nonlinear functional connectivity in the distributed motor network during resting state and continuous motor task. The results showed that the nonlinear method may be more sensitive to the desired gray matter signal. Subsequently, the scope of connectivity was extended to include directional interactions using Granger causality. An integrated approach was developed to alleviate the confounding effect of the spatial variability of the hemodynamic response and graph theory was employed to characterize the network topology. This methodology proved effective in characterizing the dynamics of cortical networks during motor fatigue. The nonlinear extension of Granger causality showed that it was more robust in the presence of confounds such as baseline drifts. Finally, we utilized the integration of the spatial correlation function to study connectivity in local brain networks. We showed that our method is robust and can reveal interesting information including the default mode network during resting state. Application of this technique to anesthesia data showed dose dependent suppression of local connectivity in the default mode network, particularly in the frontal areas. Given the body of evidence emerging from our studies, nonlinear and network characterization of fMRI data seems to provide novel insights into brain function.