We have already discussed the basics of EEG preparation to ensure that contact of electrodes with skin is of quality and stable.
Additional precautions should be taken for an MEG recording session as any magnetic material carried by the subject would cause major MEG artifacts. It is therefore recommended that the subject’s compatibility with MEG be rapidly checked by recording and visually inspecting their spontaneous resting activity, prior to EEG preparation and proceeding any further into the experiment. Large artifacts due to metallic and magnetic parts (coins, credit cards, some dental retainers, body piercing, bra supports, etc.) or particles (make-up, hair spray, tattoos) can be readily and visually detected as they cause major low-frequency deflections in MEG traces. They are usually emphasized with respiration and/or eye blinks and/or jaw movements.
Some causes of artifacts may not be easily circumvented: Research volunteers may have participated in an fMRI study, sometimes months before the MEG session. Previous participation to an MRI session is likely to have caused strong, long-term magnetization of e.g., dental retainers, which generally brings the MEG session to a premature close. On site demagnetization may be attempted using ‘degaussing’ techniques – usually using a conventional magnetic tape eraser, which attenuates and scrambles magnetization – with limited chances of success though.
Subjects are subsequently encouraged to change to wear a gown or scrubs before completing their preparation. If EEG is recorded with MEG, electrode preparation should follow the conventional principles of good EEG practice. Additional leads for EOG, ECG, EMG may then be positioned. In state-of-the-art MEG systems, head-positioning (HPI) coils are taped to the subject’s head to detect its position with respect to the sensor array while recording. This is critical as, though head motion is not encouraged, it is very likely to occur within and in between runs, especially with young children and some patients. The HPIs drive a current at some higher (~300Hz) frequency that is readily detected by the MEG sensors at the beginning of each run. Each of the HPI coil can then be localized within seconds with millimeter accuracy. Some MEG systems - like our system at MCW - feature the possibility for continuous head-position monitoring during the very recording and off-line head movement compensation (Wehner, Hämäläinen, Mody, & Ahlfors, 2008).
Head-positioning is made possible after the locations of the HPI coils are digitized prior to sitting the subject under the MEG array (Fig. 5). The distance between HPI pairs is then checked for consistency and independently by the MEG system, which is a fundamental step in the quality control of the recordings. Noisy sensors or environment and badly secured HPI taping are sources of discrepancies between the moment of subject preparation and the actual MEG recordings and should be attended. If advanced source analysis is required, additional 3D digitization of anatomical fiducial points is necessary to ensure that subsequent registration to the subject’s MRI anatomical volume is successful and accurate (see below). A minimum of 3 fiducial points should be localized: they usually sit by the nasion and left and right peri-auricular points. To reduce ambiguity in the detection of these points in the MR volume data, they can be marked using vitamin E pills or any other solid marker that is readily visible in T1-weighted MR images, if MRI is scheduled right after the MEG session. Digitization of EEG electrode locations is also mandatory for accurate, subsequent source analysis.
Overall, about 15 minutes are required for subject preparation for an MEG-only session, which can extend up to about 45 minutes if simultaneous high-density EEG is required.
Multimodal MEG/MRI geometrical registration. (a) 3 to 5 head-positioning indicators (HPI) are taped onto the subject’s scalp. Their positions, together with 3 additional anatomical fiducials (nasion, left and right peri-auricular points (NAS, LPA and RPA, respectively)) are digitized using a magnetic pen digitizer. (b) The anatomical fiducials need to be detected and marked in the subject’s anatomical MRI volume data: they are shown as white dots in this figure, together with 3 optional, additional points defining the anterior and posterior commissures and the interhemispheric space, for the definition of Talairach coordinates. (c) These anatomical landmarks henceforth define a geometrical referential in which the MEG sensor locations and the surface envelopes of the head tissues (e.g., the scalp and brain surface, segmented from the MRI volume) are co-registered. MEG sensors are shown as squares positioned about the head. The anatomical fiducials and HPI locations are marked using dark dots.