Classifying minimally disabled multiple sclerosis patients from resting state functional connectivity
Multiple sclerosis (MS), a variable and diffuse disease affecting white and gray matter, is known to cause functional connectivity anomalies in patients. However, related studies published to-date are post hoc; our hypothesis was that such alterations could discriminate between patients and healthy controls in a predictive setting, laying the groundwork for imaging-based prognosis. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging resting state data of 22 minimally disabled MS patients and 14 controls, we developed a predictive model of connectivity alterations in MS: a whole-brain connectivity matrix was built for each subject from the slow oscillations (<0.11 Hz) of region-averaged time series, and a pattern recognition technique was used to learn a discriminant function indicating which particular functional connections are most affected by disease. Classification performance using strict cross-validation yielded a sensitivity of 82% (above chance at p<0.005) and specificity of 86% (p<0.01) to distinguish between MS patients and controls. The most discriminative connectivity changes were found in subcortical and temporal regions, and contralateral connections were more discriminative than ipsilateral connections. The pattern of decreased discriminative connections can be summarized post hoc in an index that correlates positively (ρ=0.61) with white matter lesion load, possibly indicating functional reorganisation to cope with increasing lesion load. These results are consistent with a subtle but widespread impact of lesions in white matter and in gray matter structures serving as high-level integrative hubs. These findings suggest that predictive models of resting state fMRI can reveal specific anomalies due to MS with high sensitivity and specificity, potentially leading to new non-invasive markers.