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A response‐locking protocol to boost sensitivity for fMRI‐based neurochronometry

The timeline of brain‐wide neural activity relative to a behavioral event is crucial when decoding the neural implementation of a cognitive process. Yet, fMRI assesses neural processes indirectly via delayed and regionally variable hemodynamics. This method‐inherent temporal distortion impacts the interpretation of behavior‐linked neural timing. Here we describe a novel behavioral protocol that aims at disentangling the BOLD dynamics of the pre‐ and post‐response periods in response time tasks. We tested this response‐locking protocol in a perceptual decision‐making (random dot) task (Fig. 1).

Viswanathan 2020

Figure 1. Experimental paradigm. (A) Trial schematic. (B) The hypothesized timing between the different stimuli is shown.


Increasing perceptual difficulty produced expected activity increases over a broad network involving the lateral/medial prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula. However, response‐locking revealed a previously unreported functional dissociation within this network. preSMA and anterior premotor cortex (prePMV) showed post‐response activity modulations while anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex did not. Furthermore, post‐response BOLD activity at preSMA showed a modulation in timing but not amplitude while this pattern was reversed at prePMV (Fig. 2).
These timeline dissociations with response‐locking thus revealed three functionally distinct sub‐networks in what was seemingly one shared distributed network modulated by perceptual difficulty. These findings suggest that our novel response‐locked protocol could boost the timing‐related sensitivity of fMRI.

Viswanathan 2020

Figure 2. Mapping movement time. (A) Activity increases following movement onset for different coherence/movement time combinations (B) Activity over time at contralateral M1 and ipsilateral M1 averaged over coherence values. (C) Map of voxels over contralateral hemisphere where peak activity for MovLong was significantly greater than for MovShort in peak amplitude and in peak time (D) Relationship between movement‐related peak amplitude and peak time differences.



Viswanathan, S., Abdollahi, R. O., Wang, B. A., Grefkes, C., Fink, G. R., Daun, S. (2020). A response‐locking protocol to boost sensitivity for fMRI‐based neurochronometry. Human Brain Mapping.

Correspondence to:

Dr. Shivakumar Viswanathan