GALA: group analysis leads to accuracy, a novel approach for solving the inverse problem in exploratory analysis of group MEG recordings
Although MEG/EEG signals are highly variable between subjects, they allow characterizing systematic changes of cortical activity in both space and time. Traditionally a two-step procedure is used. The first step is a transition from sensor to source space by the means of solving an ill-posed inverse problem for each subject individually. The second is mapping of cortical regions consistently active across subjects. In practice the first step often leads to a set of active cortical regions whose location and timecourses display a great amount of interindividual variability hindering the subsequent group analysis. We propose Group Analysis Leads to Accuracy (GALA)—a solution that combines the two steps into one. GALA takes advantage of individual variations of cortical geometry and sensor locations. It exploits the ensuing variability in electromagnetic forward model as a source of additional information. We assume that for different subjects functionally identical cortical regions are located in close proximity and partially overlap and their timecourses are correlated. This relaxed similarity constraint on the inverse solution can be expressed within a probabilistic framework, allowing for an iterative algorithm solving the inverse problem jointly for all subjects. A systematic simulation study showed that GALA, as compared with the standard min-norm approach, improves accuracy of true activity recovery, when accuracy is assessed both in terms of spatial proximity of the estimated and true activations and correct specification of spatial extent of the activated regions. This improvement obtained without using any noise normalization techniques for both solutions, preserved for a wide range of between-subject variations in both spatial and temporal features of regional activation. The corresponding activation timecourses exhibit significantly higher similarity across subjects. Similar results were obtained for a real MEG dataset of face-specific evoked responses.