Affinity Workshop: WiML Workshop 1

Deep Generative Models for Task-Based fMRI Analysis

Daniela de Albuquerque · Jack Goffinet · Rachael Wright · John Pearson


While functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) remains one of the most widespread and important methods in basic and clinical neuroscience, the data it produces---time series of brain volumes---continue to pose daunting analysis challenges. The current standard (mass univariate'') approach involves constructing a matrix of task regressors, fitting a separate general linear model at each volume pixel (voxel''), computing test statistics for each model, and correcting for false positives \emph{post hoc} using bootstrap or other resampling methods. Despite its simplicity, this approach has enjoyed great success over the last two decades due to: 1) its ability to produce effect maps highlighting brain regions whose activity significantly correlates with a given variable of interest; and 2) its modeling of experimental effects as separable and thus easily interpretable. However, this approach suffers from several well-known drawbacks, namely: inaccurate assumptions of linearity and noise Gaussianity; a limited ability to capture individual effects and variability; and difficulties in performing proper statistical testing secondary to independently fitting voxels. In this work, we adopt a different approach, modeling entire volumes directly in a manner that increases model flexibility while preserving interpretability. Specifically, we use a generalized additive model (GAM) in which the effects of each regressor remain separable, the product of a spatial map produced by a variational autoencoder and a (potentially nonlinear) gain modeled by a covariate-specific Gaussian Process. The result is a model that yields group-level effect maps comparable or superior to the ones obtained with standard fMRI analysis software while also producing single-subject effect maps capturing individual differences. This suggests that generative models with a decomposable structure might offer a more flexible alternative for the analysis of task-based fMRI data.

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