Methods for electro- or magnetoencephalography (EEG/MEG) based brain source imaging (BSI) using sparse Bayesian learning (SBL) have been demonstrated to achieve excellent performance in situations with low numbers of distinct active sources, such as event-related designs. This paper extends the theory and practice of SBL in three important ways. First, we reformulate three existing SBL algorithms under the majorization-minimization (MM) framework. This unification perspective not only provides a useful theoretical framework for comparing different algorithms in terms of their convergence behavior, but also provides a principled recipe for constructing novel algorithms with specific properties by designing appropriate bounds of the Bayesian marginal likelihood function. Second, building on the MM principle, we propose a novel method called LowSNR-BSI that achieves favorable source reconstruction performance in low signal-to-noise-ratio settings. Third, precise knowledge of the noise level is a crucial requirement for accurate source reconstruction. Here we present a novel principled technique to accurately learn the noise variance from the data either jointly within the source reconstruction procedure or using one of two proposed cross-validation strategies. Empirically, we could show that the monotonous convergence behavior predicted from MM theory is confirmed in numerical experiments. Using simulations, we further demonstrate the advantage of LowSNR-BSI over conventional SBL in low-SNR regimes, and the advantage of learned noise levels over estimates derived from baseline data. To demonstrate the usefulness of our novel approach we show neurophysiologically plausible source reconstructions on averaged auditory evoked potential data.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience