PURPOSE: To investigate intersite variability of clinical functional magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, including influence of task standardization on variability and use of various parameters to inform the clinician whether the reliability of a given functional localization is high or low.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: Local ethics committees approved the study; all participants gave written informed consent. Eight women and seven men (mean age, 40 years) were prospectively investigated at three experienced functional MR sites with 1.5- (two sites) or 3-T (one site) MR. Nonstandardized motor and highly standardized somatosensory versions of a frequently requested clinical task (localization of the primary sensorimotor cortex) were used. Perirolandic functional MR variability was assessed (peak activation variability, center of mass [COM] variability, intraclass correlation values, overlap ratio [OR], activation size ratio). Data quality measures for functional MR images included percentage signal change (PSC), contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR), and head motion parameters. Data were analyzed with analysis of variance and a correlation analysis.
RESULTS: Localization of perirolandic functional MR activity differed by 8 mm (peak activity) and 6 mm (COM activity) among sites. Peak activation varied up to 16.5 mm (COM range, 0.4-16.5 mm) and 45.5 mm (peak activity range, 1.8-45.5 mm). Signal strength (PSC, CNR) was significantly lower for the somatosensory task (mean PSC, 1.0% ± 0.5 [standard deviation]; mean CNR, 1.2 ± 0.4) than for the motor task (mean PSC, 2.4% ± 0.8; mean CNR, 2.9 ± 0.9) (P < .001, both). Intersite variability was larger with low signal strength (negative correlations between signal strength and peak activation variability) even if the task was highly standardized (mean OR, 22.0% ± 18.9 [somatosensory task] and 50.1% ± 18.8 [motor task]).
CONCLUSION: Clinical practice and clinical functional MR biomarker studies should consider that the center of task-specific brain activation may vary up to 16.5 mm, with the investigating site, and should maximize functional MR signal strength and evaluate reliability of local results with PSC and CNR.