Spontaneous fluctuations in activity in different parts of the brain can be used to study functional brain networks. We review the use of resting-state functional MRI for the purpose of mapping the macroscopic functional connectome. After describing MRI acquisition and image processing methods commonly used to generate data in a form amenable to connectomics network analysis, we discuss different approaches for estimating network structure from that data. Finally, we describe new possibilities resulting from the high-quality rfMRI data being generated by the Human Connectome Project, and highlight some upcoming challenges in functional connectomics.
connectomics; resting-state fMRI; network modelling
The human connectome project (HCP) relies primarily on three complementary magnetic resonance (MR) methods. These are: 1) resting state functional MR imaging (rfMRI) which uses correlations in the temporal fluctuations in an fMRI time series to deduce ‘functional connectivity’; 2) diffusion imaging (dMRI), which provides the input for tractography algorithms used for the reconstruction of the complex axonal fiber architecture; and 3) task based fMRI (tfMRI), which is employed to identify functional parcellation in the human brain in order to assist analyses of data obtained with the first two methods. We describe technical improvements and optimization of these methods as well as instrumental choices that impact speed of acquisition of fMRI and dMRI images at 3 Tesla, leading to whole brain coverage with 2 mm isotropic resolution in 0.7 second for fMRI, and 1.25 mm isotropic resolution dMRI data for tractography analysis with three-fold reduction in total data acquisition time. Ongoing technical developments and optimization for acquisition of similar data at 7 Tesla magnetic field are also presented, targeting higher resolution, specificity of functional imaging signals, mitigation of the inhomogeneous radio frequency (RF) fields and power deposition. Results demonstrate that overall, these approaches represent a significant advance in MR imaging of the human brain to investigate brain function and structure.
Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rfMRI) allows one to study functional connectivity in the brain by acquiring fMRI data while subjects lie inactive in the MRI scanner, and taking advantage of the fact that functionally related brain regions spontaneously co-activate. rfMRI is one of the two primary data modalities being acquired for the Human Connectome Project (the other being diffusion MRI). A key objective is to generate a detailed in vivo mapping of functional connectivity in a large cohort of healthy adults (over 1,000 subjects), and to make these datasets freely available for use by the neuroimaging community. In each subject we acquire a total of one hour of whole-brain rfMRI data at 3 Tesla, with a spatial resolution of 2×2×2mm and a temporal resolution of 0.7s, capitalizing on recent developments in slice-accelerated echo-planar imaging. We will also scan a subset of the cohort at higher field strength and resolution. In this paper we outline the work behind, and rationale for, decisions taken regarding the rfMRI data acquisition protocol and pre-processing pipelines, and present some initial results showing data quality and example functional connectivity analyses.
A neural circuit that covaries with social hierarchy A neuroimaging study reveals that individual variation in brain circuits in structures below the cerebral cortex of macaques is associated with experience at different ends of the social hierarchy.
Despite widespread interest in social dominance, little is known of its neural correlates in primates. We hypothesized that social status in primates might be related to individual variation in subcortical brain regions implicated in other aspects of social and emotional behavior in other mammals. To examine this possibility we used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which affords the taking of quantitative measurements noninvasively, both of brain structure and of brain function, across many regions simultaneously. We carried out a series of tests of structural and functional MRI (fMRI) data in 25 group-living macaques. First, a deformation-based morphometric (DBM) approach was used to show that gray matter in the amygdala, brainstem in the vicinity of the raphe nucleus, and reticular formation, hypothalamus, and septum/striatum of the left hemisphere was correlated with social status. Second, similar correlations were found in the same areas in the other hemisphere. Third, similar correlations were found in a second data set acquired several months later from a subset of the same animals. Fourth, the strength of coupling between fMRI-measured activity in the same areas was correlated with social status. The network of subcortical areas, however, had no relationship with the sizes of individuals' social networks, suggesting the areas had a simple and direct relationship with social status. By contrast a second circuit in cortex, comprising the midsuperior temporal sulcus and anterior and dorsal prefrontal cortex, covaried with both individuals' social statuses and the social network sizes they experienced. This cortical circuit may be linked to the social cognitive processes that are taxed by life in more complex social networks and that must also be used if an animal is to achieve a high social status.
Social status is an important feature of group life in many primates. Position in the dominance hierarchy influences access to food and mates and is correlated with both general and mental health. Discovering how the brain is organized with respect to individual social status is an important first step for understanding the neural mechanisms that might drive social status and mediate its consequences. We performed a neuroimaging study in non-human primates and our findings suggest that brain organization reflects at least two aspects of dominance. First, we identified neural circuits in brain regions that appear to have a relatively simple and direct relationship with social status—one circuit in which gray matter volume tended to be greater in socially dominant individuals and another in which gray matter volume was greater in those with a more subordinate social position. We also showed that the degree of connectivity within each circuit was associated with experiences at each end of the social hierarchy. Second, given that social status in male macaques depends not only on successful engagement in agonistic behavior but also on success in forming social bonds that promote coalitions, we explored regions where gray matter relates to both social status and social network size. This second neural circuit may mediate the way in which dominance is dependent on social bond formation, which is in turn dependent on social cognition.
The Whitehall II (WHII) study of British civil servants provides a unique source of longitudinal data to investigate key factors hypothesized to affect brain health and cognitive ageing. This paper introduces the multi-modal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) protocol and cognitive assessment designed to investigate brain health in a random sample of 800 members of the WHII study.
A total of 6035 civil servants participated in the WHII Phase 11 clinical examination in 2012–2013. A random sample of these participants was included in a sub-study comprising an MRI brain scan, a detailed clinical and cognitive assessment, and collection of blood and buccal mucosal samples for the characterisation of immune function and associated measures. Data collection for this sub-study started in 2012 and will be completed by 2016. The participants, for whom social and health records have been collected since 1985, were between 60–85 years of age at the time the MRI study started. Here, we describe the pre-specified clinical and cognitive assessment protocols, the state-of-the-art MRI sequences and latest pipelines for analyses of this sub-study.
The integration of cutting-edge MRI techniques, clinical and cognitive tests in combination with retrospective data on social, behavioural and biological variables during the preceding 25 years from a well-established longitudinal epidemiological study (WHII cohort) will provide a unique opportunity to examine brain structure and function in relation to age-related diseases and the modifiable and non-modifiable factors affecting resilience against and vulnerability to adverse brain changes.
Epidemiology; Magnetic resonance imaging; Diffusion tensor imaging; White matter; Functional MRI; Connectome; Resting state brain networks; Neuropsychology; Dementia; Affective disorders
Primate comparative anatomy is an established field that has made rich and substantial contributions to neuroscience. However, the labor-intensive techniques employed mean that most comparisons are often based on a small number of species, which limits the conclusions that can be drawn. In this review we explore how new developments in magnetic resonance imaging have the potential to apply comparative neuroscience to a much wider range of species, allowing it to realize an even greater potential. We discuss (1) new advances in the types of data that can be acquired, (2) novel methods for extracting meaningful measures from such data that can be compared between species, and (3) methods to analyse these measures within a phylogenetic framework. Together these developments will allow researchers to characterize the relationship between different brains, the ecological niche they occupy, and the behavior they produce in more detail than ever before.
neuroecology; MRI; diffusion MRI; connectivity; phylogenetics
Learning a novel motor skill is associated with well characterized structural and functional plasticity in the rodent motor cortex. Furthermore, neuroimaging studies of visuomotor learning in humans have suggested that structural plasticity can occur in white matter (WM), but the biological basis for such changes is unclear. We assessed the influence of motor skill learning on WM structure within sensorimotor cortex using both diffusion MRI fractional anisotropy (FA) and quantitative immunohistochemistry. Seventy-two adult (male) rats were randomly assigned to one of three conditions (skilled reaching, unskilled reaching, and caged control). After 11 d of training, postmortem diffusion MRI revealed significantly higher FA in the skilled reaching group compared with the control groups, specifically in the WM subjacent to the sensorimotor cortex contralateral to the trained limb. In addition, within the skilled reaching group, FA across widespread regions of WM in the contralateral hemisphere correlated significantly with learning rate. Immunohistological analysis conducted on a subset of 24 animals (eight per group) revealed significantly increased myelin staining in the WM underlying motor cortex in the hemisphere contralateral (but not ipsilateral) to the trained limb for the skilled learning group versus the control groups. Within the trained hemisphere (but not the untrained hemisphere), myelin staining density correlated significantly with learning rate. Our results suggest that learning a novel motor skill induces structural change in task-relevant WM pathways and that these changes may in part reflect learning-related increases in myelination.
The microscopic structure of neuronal tissue is crucial to brain function, with axon diameter, axonal density and myelination directly influencing signal conduction in the white matter. There is increasing evidence that these microstructural properties alter signal in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) driven by magnetic susceptibility of different compartments (e.g., myelin sheaths and iron-laden cells). To explain these observations, we have developed a multi-compartmental geometric model of whitematter microstructure. Using a single set of literature parameters, this forward model predicts experimentally observed orientation dependence and temporal evolution of the MRI signal. Where previous models have aimed to explain only the orientation dependence of signal phase, the proposed approach encapsulates the full repertoire of signal behavior. The frequency distribution underlying signal behavior is predicted to be a rich source of microstructural information with relevance to neuronal pathology.
► A multi-compartmental geometric model of white matter microstructure is introduced ► Successfully predicted experimentally-observed orientation dependence of MRI signal ► Successfully predicted experimentally-observed temporal evolution of MRI signal ► Proposed approach encapsulates the full repertoire of signal behavior
GRE phase images; R2*; Magnetic susceptibility
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory neurological condition characterized by focal and diffuse neurodegeneration and demyelination throughout the central nervous system. Factors influencing the progression of pathology are poorly understood. One hypothesis is that anatomical connectivity influences the spread of neurodegeneration. This predicts that measures of neurodegeneration will correlate most strongly between interconnected structures. However, such patterns have been difficult to quantify through post-mortem neuropathology or in vivo scanning alone. In this study, we used the complementary approaches of whole brain post-mortem magnetic resonance imaging and quantitative histology to assess patterns of multiple sclerosis pathology. Two thalamo-cortical projection systems were considered based on their distinct neuroanatomy and their documented involvement in multiple sclerosis: lateral geniculate nucleus to primary visual cortex and mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus to prefrontal cortex. Within the anatomically distinct thalamo-cortical projection systems, magnetic resonance imaging derived cortical thickness was correlated significantly with both a measure of myelination in the connected tract and a measure of connected thalamic nucleus cell density. Such correlations did not exist between these markers of neurodegeneration across different thalamo-cortical systems. Magnetic resonance imaging lesion analysis depicted clearly demarcated subcortical lesions impinging on the white matter tracts of interest; however, quantitation of the extent of lesion-tract overlap failed to demonstrate any appreciable association with the severity of markers of diffuse pathology within each thalamo-cortical projection system. Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging metrics in both white matter tracts were correlated significantly with a histologically derived measure of tract myelination. These data demonstrate for the first time the relevance of functional anatomical connectivity to the spread of multiple sclerosis pathology in a ‘tract-specific’ pattern. Furthermore, the persisting relationship between metrics from post-mortem diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging and histological measures from fixed tissue further validates the potential of imaging for future neuropathological studies.
multiple sclerosis; post-mortem imaging; diffusion imaging; white matter tracts; neurodegeneration
Steady-state free precession (SSFP) is a highly-efficient MRI pulse sequence that has been a fairly recent arrival in the functional MRI realm. Several methods for using balanced SSFP to detect the BOLD signal have been proposed to date and will be discussed in this review. After a brief introduction to the general properties of SSFP, this review describes the quite different approaches of transition-band and pass-band SSFP in terms of functional contrast mechanism. It then discusses the potential advantages of these techniques, followed by their challenges and shortcomings. Finally, it gives an overview of some applications considered to date and the author's perspective on where these techniques are headed. In the spirit of this special issue, the author also includes some of the personal history underlying her own explorations in this area.
SSFP; FISP; Steady-state; FMRI; Functional; Brain
Diffusion imaging of post-mortem brains could provide valuable data for validation of diffusion tractography of white matter pathways. Long scans (e.g., overnight) may also enable high-resolution diffusion images for visualization of fine structures. However, alterations to post-mortem tissue (T2 and diffusion coefficient) present significant challenges to diffusion imaging with conventional diffusion-weighted spin echo (DW-SE) acquisitions, particularly for imaging human brains on clinical scanners. Diffusion-weighted steady-state free precession (DW-SSFP) has been proposed as an alternative acquisition technique to ameliorate this tradeoff in large-bore clinical scanners. In this study, both DWSE and DW-SSFP are optimized for use in fixed white matter on a clinical 3-Tesla scanner. Signal calculations predict superior performance from DW-SSFP across a broad range of protocols and conditions. DW-SE and DW-SSFP data in a whole, post-mortem human brain are compared for 6- and 12-hour scan durations. Tractography is performed in major projection, commissural and association tracts (corticospinal tract, corpus callosum, superior longitudinal fasciculus and cingulum bundle). The results demonstrate superior tract-tracing from DW-SSFP data, with 6-hour DW-SSFP data performing as well as or better than 12-hour DW-SE scans. These results suggest that DW-SSFP may be a preferred method for diffusion imaging of post-mortem human brains. The ability to estimate multiple fibers in imaging voxels is also demonstrated, again with greater success in DW-SSFP data.
► Comparison of DW-SE and DW-SSFP for post-mortem imaging on clinical scanners. ► Optimization of protocols predicts 50-130% higher SNR efficiency in DW-SSFP. ► Comparison of tractography 6- and 12-hour DW-SE and DW-SSFP scans. ► Lower uncertainty on fibre direction in DW-SSFP produces superior tractography. ► Crossing fibres can be estimated from 12-hour DW-SSFP data.
Diffusion; Tractography; Post mortem; Steady-state free precession; DTI
Despite the prominence of parietal activity in human neuromaging investigations of sensorimotor and cognitive processes there remains uncertainty about basic aspects of parietal cortical anatomical organization. Descriptions of human parietal cortex draw heavily on anatomical schemes developed in other primate species but the validity of such comparisons has been questioned by claims that there are fundamental differences between the parietal cortex in humans and other primates. A scheme is presented for parcellation of human lateral parietal cortex into component regions on the basis of anatomical connectivity and the functional interactions of the resulting clusters with other brain regions. Anatomical connectivity was estimated using diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance image (MRI) based tractography and functional interactions were assessed by correlations in activity measured with functional MRI (fMRI) at rest. Resting state functional connectivity was also assessed directly in the rhesus macaque lateral parietal cortex in an additional experiment and the patterns found reflected known neuroanatomical connections. Cross-correlation in the tractography-based connectivity patterns of parietal voxels reliably parcellated human lateral parietal cortex into ten component clusters. The resting state functional connectivity of human superior parietal and intraparietal clusters with frontal and extrastriate cortex suggested correspondences with areas in macaque superior and intraparietal sulcus. Functional connectivity patterns with parahippocampal cortex and premotor cortex again suggested fundamental correspondences between inferior parietal cortex in humans and macaques. In contrast, the human parietal cortex differs in the strength of its interactions between the central inferior parietal lobule region and the anterior prefrontal cortex.
AIP; MIP; LIP; VIP; IPL; SPL
Diffusion imaging of post mortem brains has great potential both as a reference for brain specimens that undergo sectioning, and as a link between in vivo diffusion studies and “gold standard” histology/dissection. While there is a relatively mature literature on post mortem diffusion imaging of animals, human brains have proven more challenging due to their incompatibility with high-performance scanners. This study presents a method for post mortem diffusion imaging of whole, human brains using a clinical 3-Tesla scanner with a 3D segmented EPI spin-echo sequence. Results in eleven brains at 0.94 × 0.94 × 0.94 mm resolution are presented, and in a single brain at 0.73 × 0.73 × 0.73 mm resolution. Region-of-interest analysis of diffusion tensor parameters indicate that these properties are altered compared to in vivo (reduced diffusivity and anisotropy), with significant dependence on post mortem interval (time from death to fixation). Despite these alterations, diffusion tractography of several major tracts is successfully demonstrated at both resolutions. We also report novel findings of cortical anisotropy and partial volume effects.
► Acquisition and processing protocols for diffusion MRI of post-mortem human brains. ► Effect of post-mortem and scan intervals on diffusion indices. ► Tractography in post-mortem human brains. ► Radial diffusion anisotropy in cortical gray matter.
Diffusion tensor imaging; Tractography; Post mortem; Human; Brain
Echo planar imaging (EPI) is an MRI technique of particular value to neuroscience, with its use for virtually all functional MRI (fMRI) and diffusion imaging of fiber connections in the human brain. EPI generates a single 2D image in a fraction of a second; however, it requires 2–3 seconds to acquire multi-slice whole brain coverage for fMRI and even longer for diffusion imaging. Here we report on a large reduction in EPI whole brain scan time at 3 and 7 Tesla, without significantly sacrificing spatial resolution, and while gaining functional sensitivity. The multiplexed-EPI (M-EPI) pulse sequence combines two forms of multiplexing: temporal multiplexing (m) utilizing simultaneous echo refocused (SIR) EPI and spatial multiplexing (n) with multibanded RF pulses (MB) to achieve m×n images in an EPI echo train instead of the normal single image. This resulted in an unprecedented reduction in EPI scan time for whole brain fMRI performed at 3 Tesla, permitting TRs of 400 ms and 800 ms compared to a more conventional 2.5 sec TR, and 2–4 times reductions in scan time for HARDI imaging of neuronal fibertracks. The simultaneous SE refocusing of SIR imaging at 7 Tesla advantageously reduced SAR by using fewer RF refocusing pulses and by shifting fat signal out of the image plane so that fat suppression pulses were not required. In preliminary studies of resting state functional networks identified through independent component analysis, the 6-fold higher sampling rate increased the peak functional sensitivity by 60%. The novel M-EPI pulse sequence resulted in a significantly increased temporal resolution for whole brain fMRI, and as such, this new methodology can be used for studying non-stationarity in networks and generally for expanding and enriching the functional information.