Diffusion imaging can map anatomical connectivity in the living brain, offering new insights into fundamental questions such as how the left and right brain hemispheres differ. Anatomical brain asymmetries are related to speech and language abilities, but less is known about left/right hemisphere differences in brain wiring. To assess this, we scanned 457 young adults (age 23.4±2.0 SD years) and 112 adolescents (age 12-16) with 4-Tesla 105-gradient high-angular resolution diffusion imaging. We extracted fiber tracts throughout the brain with a Hough transform method. A 70×70 connectivity matrix was created, for each subject, based on the proportion of fibers intersecting 70 cortical regions. We identified significant differences in the proportions of fibers intersecting left and right hemisphere cortical regions. The degree of asymmetry in the connectivity matrices varied with age, as did the asymmetry in network topology measures such as the small-world effect.
tractography; high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI); small-world effect; connectome; laterality
Recently, there has been a wealth of research into structural and functional brain connectivity, and how they change over development. While we are far from a complete understanding, these studies have yielded important insights into human brain development. There is an ever growing variety of methods for assessing connectivity, each with its own advantages. Here we review research on the development of structural and/or functional brain connectivity in both typically developing subjects and subjects with neurodevelopmental disorders. Space limitations preclude an exhaustive review of brain connectivity across all developmental disorders, so we review a representative selection of recent findings on brain connectivity in autism, Fragile X, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, Williams syndrome, Turner syndrome, and ADHD. Major strides have been made in understanding the developmental trajectory of the human connectome, offering insight into characteristic features of brain development and biological processes involved in developmental brain disorders. We also discuss some common themes, including hemispheric specialization – or asymmetry – and sex differences. We conclude by discussing some promising future directions in connectomics, including the merger of imaging and genetics, and a deeper investigation of the relationships between structural and functional connectivity.
Research on resting-state functional connectivity reveals intrinsically connected networks in the brain that are largely consistent across the general population. However, there are individual differences in these networks that have not been elucidated. Here, we measured the influence of naturally occurring mood on functional connectivity. In particular, we examined the association between self-reported levels of anxiety and connectivity in the default mode network (DMN). Healthy youth (n=43; ages 10–18) and adult participants (n=24, ages 19–59) completed a 6-min resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scan, then immediately completed questionnaires assessing their mood and thoughts during the scan. Regression analyses conducted separately for the youth and adult samples revealed brain regions in which increases in connectivity differentially corresponded to higher anxiety in each group. In one area, the left insular cortex, both groups showed similar increased connectivity to the DMN (youth: -30, 26, 14; adults: -33, 12, 14) with increased anxiety. State anxiety assessed during scanning was not correlated with trait anxiety, so our results likely reflect state levels of anxiety. To our knowledge, this is the first study to relate naturally occurring mood to resting state connectivity.
anxiety; default-mode; development; DMN; fMRI; functional connectivity; ICA; ICN; insula
Recently, carriers of a common variant in the autism risk gene, CNTNAP2, were found to have altered functional brain connectivity using functional MRI. Here we scanned 328 young adults with high-field (4-Tesla) diffusion imaging, to test the hypothesis that carriers of this gene variant would have altered structural brain connectivity. All participants (209 females, 119 males, age: 23.4 +/−2.17 SD years) were scanned with 105-gradient high angular diffusion imaging (HARDI) at 4 Tesla. After performing a whole-brain fiber tractography using the full angular resolution of the diffusion scans, 70 cortical surface-based regions of interest were created from each individual’s co-registered anatomical data to compute graph metrics for all pairs of cortical regions. In graph theory analyses, subjects homozygous for the risk allele (CC) had lower characteristic path length, greater small-worldness and global efficiency in whole brain analyses, as well as greater eccentricity (maximum path length) in 60 of 70 nodes in regional analyses. These results were not reducible to differences in more commonly studied traits such as fiber density or fractional anisotropy. This is the first study to link graph theory metrics of brain structural connectivity to a common genetic variant linked with autism and will help us understand the neurobiology of circuits implicated in risk for autism.
structural connectivity; HARDI; autism; CNTNAP2; graph theory; twins
Diffusion imaging and brain connectivity analyses can monitor white matter deterioration, revealing how neural pathways break down in aging and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Here we tested how AD disrupts the ‘rich club’ effect – a network property found in the normal brain – where high-degree nodes in the connectivity network are more heavily interconnected with each other than expected by chance. We analyzed 3-Tesla whole-brain diffusionweighted images (DWI) from 66 subjects (22 AD/44 normal elderly). We performed whole-brain tractography based on the orientation distribution functions. Connectivity matrices were compiled, representing the proportion of detected fibers interconnecting 68 cortical regions. As expected, AD patients had a lower nodal degree (average number of connections) in cortical regions implicated in the disease. Unexpectedly, the normalized rich club coefficient was higher in AD. AD disrupts cortical networks by removing connections; when these networks are thresholded, organizational properties are disrupted leading to additional new biomarkers of AD.
The human connectome has recently become a popular research topic in neuroscience, and many new algorithms have been applied to analyze brain networks. In particular, network topology measures from graph theory have been adapted to analyze network efficiency and ‘small-world’ properties. While there has been a surge in the number of papers examining connectivity through graph theory, questions remain about its test-retest reliability (TRT). In particular, the reproducibility of structural connectivity measures has not been assessed. We examined the TRT of global connectivity measures generated from graph theory analyses of 17 young adults who underwent two high-angular resolution diffusion (HARDI) scans approximately 3 months apart. Of the measures assessed, modularity had the highest TRT, and it was stable across a range of sparsities (a thresholding parameter used to define which network edges are retained). These reliability measures underline the need to develop network descriptors that are robust to acquisition parameters.
The insula, hidden deep within the Sylvian fissures, has proven difficult to study from a connectivity perspective. Most of our current information on the anatomical connectivity of the insula comes from studies of nonhuman primates and post mortem human dissections. To date, only two neuroimaging studies have successfully examined the connectivity of the insula. Here we examine how the connectivity of the insula develops between ages 12 and 30, in 307 young adolescent and adult subjects scanned with 4-Tesla high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI). The density of fiber connections between the insula and the frontal and parietal cortex decreased with age, but the connection density between the insula and the temporal cortex generally increased with age. This trajectory is in line with well-known patterns of cortical development in these regions. In addition, males and females showed different developmental trajectories for the connection between the left insula and the left precentral gyrus. The insula plays many different roles, some of them affected in neuropsychiatric disorders; this information on the insula's connectivity may help efforts to elucidate mechanisms of brain disorders in which it is implicated.
insula; development; tractography; HARDI; structural connectivity
The ‘rich club’ coefficient describes a phenomenon where a network's hubs (high-degree nodes) are on average more intensely interconnected than lower-degree nodes. Networks with rich clubs often have an efficient, higher-order organization, but we do not yet know how the rich club emerges in the living brain, or how it changes as our brain networks develop. Here we chart the developmental trajectory of the rich club in anatomical brain networks from 438 subjects aged 12-30. Cortical networks were constructed from 68×68 connectivity matrices of fiber density, using whole-brain tractography in 4-Tesla 105-gradient high angular resolution diffusion images (HARDI). The adult and younger cohorts had rich clubs that included different nodes; the rich club effect intensified with age. Rich-club organization is a sign of a network's efficiency and robustness. These concepts and findings may be advantageous for studying brain maturation and abnormal brain development.
rich club coefficient; high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI); tractography; network analyses; development; structural connectivity
Understanding how the brain matures in healthy individuals is critical for evaluating deviations from normal development in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. The brain’s anatomical networks are profoundly re-modeled between childhood and adulthood, and diffusion tractography offers unprecedented power to reconstruct these networks and neural pathways in vivo. Here we tracked changes in structural connectivity and network efficiency in 439 right-handed individuals aged 12 to 30 (211 female/126 male adults, mean age=23.6, SD=2.19; 31 female/24 male 12 year olds, mean age=12.3, SD=0.18; and 25 female/22 male 16 year olds, mean age=16.2, SD=0.37). All participants were scanned with high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) at 4 Tesla. After we performed whole brain tractography, 70 cortical gyral-based regions of interest were extracted from each participant’s co-registered anatomical scans. The degree of fiber connections between all pairs of cortical regions, or nodes, were found to create symmetric fiber density matrices, reflecting the structural brain network. From those 70×70 matrices we computed graph theory metrics characterizing structural connectivity. Several key global and nodal metrics changed across development, showing increased network integration, with some connections pruned and others strengthened. The increases and decreases in fiber density, however, were not distributed proportionally across the brain. The frontal cortex had a disproportionate number of decreases in fiber density while the temporal cortex had a disproportionate number of increases in fiber density. This large-scale analysis of the developing structural connectome offers a foundation to develop statistical criteria for aberrant brain connectivity as the human brain matures.
HARDI; structural connectivity; graph theory; development
In the course of development, the brain undergoes a remarkable process of restructuring as it adapts to the environment and becomes more efficient in processing information. A variety of brain imaging methods can be used to probe how anatomy, connectivity, and function change in the developing brain. Here we review recent discoveries regarding these brain changes in both typically developing individuals and individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. We begin with typical development, summarizing research on changes in regional brain volume and tissue density, cortical thickness, white matter integrity, and functional connectivity. Space limits preclude the coverage of all neurodevelopmental disorders; instead, we cover a representative selection of studies examining neural correlates of autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Fragile X, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, Williams syndrome, Down syndrome, and Turner syndrome. Where possible, we focus on studies that identify an age by diagnosis interaction, suggesting an altered developmental trajectory. The studies we review generally cover the developmental period from infancy to early adulthood. Great progress has been made over the last 20 years in mapping how the brain matures with MR technology. With ever-improving technology, we expect this progress to accelerate, offering a deeper understanding of brain development, and more effective interventions for neurodevelopmental disorders.
development; MRI; DTI; rsfMRI; brain structure; brain connectivity; neurodevelopmental disorder; autism; ADHD; 22q; fragile X; Turner syndrome; Williams syndrome; Down syndrome
Graph theory can be applied to matrices that represent the brain’s anatomical connections, to better understand global properties of anatomical networks, such as their clustering, efficiency and “small-world” topology. Network analysis is popular in adult studies of connectivity, but only one study – in just 30 subjects – has examined how network measures change as the brain develops over this period. Here we assessed the developmental trajectory of graph theory metrics of structural brain connectivity in a cross-sectional study of 467 subjects, aged 12 to 30. We computed network measures from 70×70 connectivity matrices of fiber density generated using whole-brain tractography in 4-Tesla 105-gradient high angular resolution diffusion images (HARDI). We assessed global efficiency and modularity, and both age and age2 effects were identified. HARDI-based connectivity maps are sensitive to the remodeling and refinement of structural brain connections as the human brain develops.
graph theory; high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI); tractography; network analyses; development; structural connectivity
Recently, carriers of a common variant in the autism risk gene, CNTNAP2, were found to have altered functional brain connectivity using functional MRI. Here, we scanned 328 young adults with high-field (4-Tesla) diffusion imaging, to test the hypothesis that carriers of this gene variant would have altered structural brain connectivity. All participants (209 women, 119 men, age: 23.4±2.17 SD years) were scanned with 105-gradient high-angular-resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) at 4 Tesla. After performing a whole-brain fiber tractography using the full angular resolution of the diffusion scans, 70 cortical surface-based regions of interest were created from each individual's co-registered anatomical data to compute graph metrics for all pairs of cortical regions. In graph theory analyses, subjects homozygous for the risk allele (CC) had lower characteristic path length, greater small-worldness and global efficiency in whole-brain analyses, and lower eccentricity (maximum path length) in 60 of the 70 nodes in regional analyses. These results were not reducible to differences in more commonly studied traits such as fiber density or fractional anisotropy. This is the first study that links graph theory metrics of brain structural connectivity to a common genetic variant linked with autism and will help us understand the neurobiology of the circuits implicated in the risk for autism.
autism; CNTNAP2; graph theory; HARDI; structural connectivity; twins
Resting-state MRI (rs-fMRI) is a powerful procedure for studying whole brain neural connectivity. In this study we provide the first empirical evidence of the longitudinal reliability of rs-fMRI in children. We compared rest-retest measurements across spatial, temporal, and frequency domains for each of six cognitive and sensorimotor intrinsic connectivity networks (ICNs) both within and between scan sessions. Using Kendall’s W, concordance of spatial maps ranged from .60 to .86 across networks, for various derived measures. The Pearson correlation coefficient for temporal coherence between networks across all Time one - Time two (T1/T2) z-converted measures was .66 (p<.001). There were no differences between T1/T2 measurements in low-frequency power of the ICNs. For the visual network, within-session T1 correlated with the T2 low-frequency power, across participants. These measures from resting-state data in children were consistent across multiple domains (spatial, temporal, and frequency). Resting-state connectivity is therefore a reliable method for assessing large-scale brain networks in children.