Aggregating voxel-level statistical dependencies between multivariate time series is an important intermediate step when characterising functional connectivity (FC) between larger brain regions. However, there are numerous ways in which voxel-level data can be aggregated into inter-regional FC, and the advantages of each of these approaches are currently unclear.
In this study we generate ground-truth data and compare the performances of various pipelines that estimate directed and undirected linear phase-to-phase FC between regions. We test the ability of several existing and novel FC analysis pipelines to identify the true regions within which connectivity was simulated. We test various inverse modelling algorithms, strategies to aggregate time series within regions, and connectivity metrics. Furthermore, we investigate the influence of the number of interactions, the signal-to-noise ratio, the noise mix, the interaction time delay, and the number of active sources per region on the ability of detecting phase-to-phase FC.
Throughout all simulated scenarios, lowest performance is obtained with pipelines involving the absolute value of coherency. Further, the combination of dynamic imaging of coherent sources (DICS) beamforming with directed FC metrics that aggregate information across multiple frequencies leads to unsatisfactory results. Pipelines that show promising results with our simulated pseudo-EEG data involve the following steps: (1) Source projection using the linearly-constrained minimum variance (LCMV) beamformer. (2) Principal component analysis (PCA) using the same fixed number of components within every region. (3) Calculation of the multivariate interaction measure (MIM) for every region pair to assess undirected phase-to-phase FC, or calculation of time-reversed Granger Causality (TRGC) to assess directed phase-to-phase FC. We formulate recommendations based on these results that may increase the validity of future experimental connectivity studies.
We further introduce the free ROIconnect plugin for the EEGLAB toolbox that includes the recommended methods and pipelines that are presented here. We show an exemplary application of the best performing pipeline to the analysis of EEG data recorded during motor imagery.