StandardRat: A multi-center consensus protocol to enhance functional connectivity specificity in the rat brain


Task-free functional connectivity in animal models provides an experimental framework to examine connectivity phenomena under controlled conditions and allows comparison with invasive or terminal procedures. To date, animal acquisitions are performed with varying protocols and analyses that hamper result comparison and integration. We introduce StandardRat, a consensus rat functional MRI acquisition protocol tested across 20 centers. To develop this protocol with optimized acquisition and processing parameters, we initially aggregated 65 functional imaging datasets acquired in rats from 46 centers. We developed a reproducible pipeline for the analysis of rat data acquired with diverse protocols and determined experimental and processing parameters associated with a more robust functional connectivity detection. We show that the standardized protocol enhances biologically plausible functional connectivity patterns, relative to pre-existing acquisitions. The protocol and processing pipeline described here are openly shared with the neuroimaging community to promote interoperability and cooperation towards tackling the most important challenges in neuroscience.