Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a noninvasive functional imaging technique measuring hemodynamic changes including oxygenated (O2Hb) and deoxygenated (HHb) hemoglobin. Low frequency (LF; 0.01 to 0.15 Hz) band is commonly analyzed in fNIRS to represent neuronal activation. However, systemic physiological artifacts (i.e., nonneuronal) likely occur also in overlapping frequency bands. We measured peripheral photoplethysmogram (PPG) signal concurrently with fNIRS (at prefrontal region) to extract the low-frequency oscillations (LFOs) as systemic noise regressors. We investigated three main points in this study: (1) the relationship between prefrontal fNIRS and peripheral PPG signals; (2) the denoising potential using these peripheral LFOs, and (3) the innovative ways to avoid the false-positive result in fNIRS studies. We employed spatial working memory (WM) and control tasks (e.g., resting state) to illustrate these points. Our results showed: (1) correlation between signals from prefrontal fNIRS and peripheral PPG is region-dependent. The high correlation with peripheral ear signal (i.e., O2Hb) occurred mainly in frontopolar regions in both spatial WM and control tasks. This may indicate the finding of task-dependent effect even in peripheral signals. We also found that the PPG recording at the ear has a high correlation with prefrontal fNIRS signal than the finger signals. (2) The systemic noise was reduced by 25% to 34% on average across regions, with a maximum of 39% to 58% in the highly correlated frontopolar region, by using these peripheral LFOs as noise regressors. (3) By performing the control tasks, we confirmed that the statistically significant activation was observed in the spatial WM task, not in the controls. This suggested that systemic (and any other) noises unlikely violated the major statistical inference. (4) Lastly, by denoising using the task-related signals, the significant activation of region-of-interest was still observed suggesting the manifest task-evoked response in the spatial WM task.
This study investigated the relationships of systemic low-frequency oscillations (sLFOs) measured at different peripheral sites in resting state, during passive leg raising (PLR), and during a paced breathing (PB) test. Twenty-five healthy subjects (21 to 57 years old; males: 13 and females: 12) were recruited for these experiments. During the experiments, the fluctuations of oxyhemoglobin concentration were measured at six peripheral sites (left and right toes, fingertips, and earlobes) using a multichannel near-infrared spectroscopy instrument developed by our group. We applied cross-correlation and frequency component analyses on the data. The results showed that the sLFO signals in the symmetric peripheral sites were highly correlated, with time delays close to zero, whereas the correlation coefficients decreased between the sLFO signals of asymmetric sites, with delays up to several seconds. Furthermore, in PLR/PB tests, we found that PB caused wider and more robust changes in hemoglobin concentrations at peripheral sites compared to PLR. Among six peripheral sites, earlobes were the most sensitive to these perturbations, followed by fingertips, and then toes. Lastly, we showed that the perturbation signals may have different coupling mechanisms than the sLFO signals. The study deepened our understanding of the sLFO signals and establishes baseline measures for developing perfusion biomarkers to assess peripheral vascular integrity.