Study-specific EPI template improves group analysis in functional MRI of young and older adults.
Spatial normalization is an essential process for group comparisons in functional MRI studies. In practice, there is a risk of normalization errors particularly in studies involving children, seniors or diseased populations and in regions with high individual variation. One way to minimize normalization errors is to create a study-specific template based on a large sample size. However, studies with a large sample size are not always feasible, particularly for children studies. The performance of templates with a small sample size has not been evaluated in fMRI studies in children. In the current study, this issue was encountered in a working memory task with 29 children in two groups. We compared the performance of different templates: a study-specific template created by the experimental population, a Chinese children template and the widely used adult MNI template. We observed distinct differences in the right orbitofrontal region among the three templates in between-group comparisons. The study-specific template and the Chinese children template were more sensitive for the detection of between-group differences in the orbitofrontal cortex than the MNI template. Proper templates could effectively reduce individual variation. Further analysis revealed a correlation between the BOLD contrast size and the norm index of the affine transformation matrix, i.e., the SFN, which characterizes the difference between a template and a native image and differs significantly across subjects. Thereby, we proposed and tested another method to reduce individual variation that included the SFN as a covariate in group-wise statistics. This correction exhibits outstanding performance in enhancing detection power in group-level tests. A training effect of abacus-based mental calculation was also demonstrated, with significantly elevated activation in the right orbitofrontal region that correlated with behavioral response time across subjects in the trained group.