MRI-related anxiety can induce slow BOLD oscillations coupled with cardiac oscillations

G. Pfurtscheller, A. R. Schwerdtfeger*, B. Rassler, A. Andrade, G. Schwarz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Although about 1–2% of MRI examinations must be aborted due to anxiety, there is little research on how MRI-related anxiety affects BOLD signals in resting states. Methods: We re-analyzed cardiac beat-to beat interval (RRI) and BOLD signals of 23 healthy fMRI participants in four resting states by calculation of phase-coupling in the 0.07–0.13 Hz band and determination of positive time delays (pTDs; RRI leading neural BOLD oscillations) and negative time delays (nTDs; RRI lagging behind vascular BOLD oscillations). State anxiety of each subject was assigned to either a low anxiety (LA) or a high anxiety (HA, with most participants exhibiting moderate anxiety symptoms) category based on the inside scanner assessed anxiety score. Results: Although anxiety strongly differed between HA and LA categories, no significant difference was found for nTDs. In contrast, pTDs indicating neural BOLD oscillations exhibited a significant cumulation in the high anxiety category. Conclusions: Findings may suggest that vascular BOLD oscillations related to slow cerebral blood circulation are of about similar intensity during low/no and elevated anxiety. In contrast, neural BOLD oscillations, which might be associated with a central rhythm generating mechanism (pacemaker-like activity), appear to be significantly intensified during elevated anxiety. Significance: The study provides evidence that fMRI-related anxiety can activate a central rhythm generating mechanism very likely located in the brain stem, associated with slow neural BOLD oscillation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2083-2090
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • Anxiety
  • Cardiac-interval oscillations
  • fMRI
  • Pacemaker-like activity
  • Slow BOLD oscillations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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