In functional brain mapping, pattern recognition methods allow detecting multivoxel patterns of brain activation which are informative with respect to a subject's perceptual or cognitive state. The sensitivity of these methods, however, is greatly reduced when the proportion of voxels that convey the discriminative information is small compared to the total number of measured voxels. To reduce this dimensionality problem, previous studies employed univariate voxel selection or region-of-interest-based strategies as a preceding step to the application of machine learning algorithms. Here we employ a strategy for classifying functional imaging data based on a multivariate feature selection algorithm, Recursive Feature Elimination (RFE) that uses the training algorithm (support vector machine) recursively to eliminate irrelevant voxels and estimate informative spatial patterns. Generalization performances on test data increases while features/voxels are pruned based on their discrimination ability. In this article we evaluate RFE in terms of sensitivity of discriminative maps (Receiver Operative Characteristic analysis) and generalization performances and compare it to previously used univariate voxel selection strategies based on activation and discrimination measures. Using simulated fMRI data, we show that the recursive approach is suitable for mapping discriminative patterns and that the combination of an initial univariate activation-based (F-test) reduction of voxels and multivariate recursive feature elimination produces the best results, especially when differences between conditions have a low contrast-to-noise ratio. Furthermore, we apply our method to high resolution (2 x 2 x 2mm(3)) data from an auditory fMRI experiment in which subjects were stimulated with sounds from four different categories. With these real data, our recursive algorithm proves able to detect and accurately classify multivoxel spatial patterns, highlighting the role of the superior temporal gyrus in encoding the information of sound categories. In line with the simulation results, our method outperforms univariate statistical analysis and statistical learning without feature selection.
de Martino, F., Valente, G., Staeren, N. P. M. C., Ashburner, J., Goebel, R. W., & Formisano, E. (2008). Combining multivariate voxel selection and support vector machines for mapping and classification of fMRI spatial patterns. Neuroimage, 43(1), 44-58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.06.037