Linear and nonlinear relationships between visual stimuli, EEG and BOLD fMRI signals

Zhongming Liu, Cristina Rios, Nanyin Zhang, Lin Yang, Wei Chen, Bin He

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


In the present study, the cascaded interactions between stimuli and neural and hemodynamic responses were modeled using linear systems. These models provided the theoretical hypotheses that were tested against the electroencephalography (EEG) and blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data recorded from human subjects during prolonged periods of repeated visual stimuli with a variable setting of the inter-stimulus interval (ISI) and visual contrast. Our results suggest that (1) neural response is nonlinear only when ISI < 0.2 s, (2) BOLD response is nonlinear with an exclusively vascular origin when 0.25 < ISI < 4.2 s, (3) vascular response nonlinearity reflects a refractory effect, rather than a ceiling effect, and (4) there is a strong linear relationship between the BOLD effect size and the integrated power of event-related synaptic current activity, after modeling and taking into account the vascular refractory effect. These conclusions offer important insights into the origins of BOLD nonlinearity and the nature of neurovascular coupling, and suggest an effective means to quantitatively interpret the BOLD signal in terms of neural activity. The validated cross-modal relationship between fMRI and EEG may provide a theoretical basis for the integration of these two modalities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1054-1066
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 15 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are thankful to Ms. Han Yuan for helpful discussions, and Mr. Daniel Schober and Ms. Diana Groschen for assistance in EEG data collection. This work was supported by NIH RO1EB007920 , RO1EB006433 , a grant from the Institute for Engineering in Medicine of the University of Minnesota, and a grant from the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics. The 3T scanner is supported in part by NIH P41RR008079 and P30NS057091 .


  • BOLD effect size
  • BOLD fMRI modeling
  • BOLD nonlinearity
  • Neurovascular coupling
  • Refractory effect
  • Visual evoked potential


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