Neuro-current response functions: A unified approach to MEG source analysis under the continuous stimuli paradigm


Characterizing the neural dynamics underlying sensory processing is one of the central areas of investigation in systems and cognitive neuroscience. Neuroimaging techniques such as magnetoencephalography (MEG) and Electroencephalography (EEG) have provided significant insights into the neural processing of continuous stimuli, such as speech, thanks to their high temporal resolution. Existing work in the context of auditory processing suggests that certain features of speech, such as the acoustic envelope, can be used as reliable linear predictors of the neural response manifested in M/EEG. The corresponding linear filters are referred to as temporal response functions (TRFs). While the functional roles of specific components of the TRF are well-studied and linked to behavioral attributes such as attention, the cortical origins of the underlying neural processes are not as well understood. In this work, we address this issue by estimating a linear filter representation of cortical sources directly from neuroimaging data in the context of continuous speech processing. To this end, we introduce Neuro-Current Response Functions (NCRFs), a set of linear filters, spatially distributed throughout the cortex, that predict the cortical currents giving rise to the observed ongoing MEG (or EEG) data in response to continuous speech. NCRF estimation is cast within a Bayesian framework, which allows unification of the TRF and source estimation problems, and also facilitates the incorporation of prior information on the structural properties of the NCRFs. To generalize this analysis to M/EEG recordings which lack individual structural magnetic resonance (MR) scans, NCRFs are extended to free-orientation dipoles and a novel regularizing scheme is put forward to lessen reliance on fine-tuned coordinate co-registration. We present a fast estimation algorithm, which we refer to as the Champ-Lasso algorithm, by leveraging recent advances in optimization, and demonstrate its utility through application to simulated and experimentally recorded MEG data under auditory experiments. Our simulation studies reveal significant improvements over existing methods that typically operate in a two-stage fashion, in terms of spatial resolution, response function reconstruction, and recovering dipole orientations. The analysis of experimentally-recorded MEG data without MR scans corroborates existing findings, but also delineates the distinct cortical distribution of the underlying neural processes at high spatiotemporal resolution. In summary, we provide a principled modeling and estimation paradigm for MEG source analysis tailored to extracting the cortical origin of electrophysiological responses to continuous stimuli.