Functional neuroimaging techniques enable investigations into the neural basis of human cognition, emotions, and behaviors. In practice, applications of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have provided novel insights into the neuropathophysiology of major psychiatric,neurological, and substance abuse disorders, as well as into the neural responses to their treatments. Modern activation studies often compare localized task-induced changes in brain activity between experimental groups. One may also extend voxel-level analyses by simultaneously considering the ensemble of voxels constituting an anatomically defined region of interest (ROI) or by considering means or quantiles of the ROI. In this work we present a Bayesian extension of voxel-level analyses that offers several notable benefits. First, it combines whole-brain voxel-by-voxel modeling and ROI analyses within a unified framework. Secondly, an unstructured variance/covariance for regional mean parameters allows for the study of inter-regional functional connectivity, provided enough subjects are available to allow for accurate estimation. Finally, an exchangeable correlation structure within regions allows for the consideration of intra-regional functional connectivity. We perform estimation for our model using Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) techniques implemented via Gibbs sampling which, despite the high throughput nature of the data, can be executed quickly (less than 30 minutes). We apply our Bayesian hierarchical model to two novel fMRI data sets: one considering inhibitory control in cocaine-dependent men and the second considering verbal memory in subjects at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The unifying hierarchical model presented in this manuscript is shown to enhance the interpretation content of these data sets.



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