Dynamic brain networks explored by structure-revealing methods

The human brain is a complex system able to continuously adapt. How and where brain activity is modulated by behavior can be studied with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a non-invasive neuroimaging technique with excellent spatial resolution and whole-brain coverage. FMRI scans of healthy adults completing a variety of behavioral tasks have greatly contributed to our understanding of the functional role of individual brain regions. However, by statistically analyzing each region independently, these studies ignore that brain regions act in concert rather than in unison. Thus, many studies since have instead examined how brain regions interact. Surprisingly, structured interactions between distinct brain regions not only occur during behavioral tasks but also while a subject rests quietly in the MRI scanner. Multiple groups of regions interact very strongly with each other and not only do these groups bear a striking resemblance to the sets of regions co-activated in tasks, but many of these interactions are also progressively disrupted in neurological diseases. This suggests that spontaneous fluctuations in activity can provide novel insights into fundamental organizing principles of the human brain in health and disease. Many techniques to date have segregated regions into spatially distinct networks, which ignores that any brain region can take part in multiple networks across time. A more natural view is to estimate dynamic brain networks that allow flexible functional interactions (or connectivity) over time. The estimation and analysis of such dynamic functional interactions is the subject of this dissertation. We take the perspective that dynamic brain networks evolve in a low-dimensional space and can be described by a small number of characteristic spatiotemporal patterns. Our proposed approaches are based on well-established statistical methods, such as principal component analysis (PCA), sparse matrix decompositions, temporal clustering, as well as a multiscale analysis by novel graph wavelet designs. We adapt and extend these methods to the analysis of dynamic brain networks. We show that PCA and its higher-order equivalent can identify co-varying functional interactions, which reveal disturbed dynamic properties in multiple sclerosis and which are related to the timing of stimuli for task studies, respectively. Further we show that sparse matrix decompositions provide a valid alternative approach to PCA and improve interpretability of the identified patterns. Finally, assuming an even simpler low-dimensional space and the exclusive temporal expression of individual patterns, we show that specific transient interactions of the medial prefrontal cortex are disturbed in aging and relate to impaired memory.

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