Optimal design of on-scalp electromagnetic sensor arrays for brain source localisation

Optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs) are quickly widening the scopes of noninvasive neurophysiological imaging. The possibility of placing these magnetic field sensors on the scalp allows not only to acquire signals from people in movement, but also to reduce the distance between the sensors and the brain, with a consequent gain in the signal-to-noise ratio. These advantages make the technique particularly attractive to characterise sources of brain activity in demanding populations, such as children and patients with epilepsy. However, the technology is currently in an early stage, presenting new design challenges around the optimal sensor arrangement and their complementarity with other techniques as electroencephalography (EEG). In this article, we present an optimal array design strategy focussed on minimising the brain source localisation error. The methodology is based on the Cramér-Rao bound, which provides lower error bounds on the estimation of source parameters regardless of the algorithm used. We utilise this framework to compare whole head OPM arrays with commercially available electro/magnetoencephalography (E/MEG) systems for localising brain signal generators. In addition, we study the complementarity between EEG and OPM-based MEG, and design optimal whole head systems based on OPMs only and a combination of OPMs and EEG electrodes for characterising deep and superficial sources alike. Finally, we show the usefulness of the approach to find the nearly optimal sensor positions minimising the estimation error bound in a given cortical region when a limited number of OPMs are available. This is of special interest for maximising the performance of small scale systems to ad hoc neurophysiological experiments, a common situation arising in most OPM labs.


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