Sensitivity analysis of human brain structural network construction

Network neuroscience leverages diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging and tractography to quantify structural connectivity of the human brain. However, scientists and practitioners lack a clear understanding of the effects of varying tractography parameters on the constructed structural networks. With diffusion images from the Human Connectome Project (HCP), we characterize how structural networks are impacted by the spatial resolution of brain atlases, total number of tractography streamlines, and grey matter dilation with various graph metrics. We demonstrate how injudicious combinations of highly refined brain parcellations and low numbers of streamlines may inadvertently lead to disconnected network models with isolated nodes. Furthermore, we provide solutions to significantly reduce the likelihood of generating disconnected networks. In addition, for different tractography parameters, we investigate the distributions of values taken by various graph metrics across the population of HCP subjects. Analyzing the ranks of individual subjects within the graph metric distributions, we find that the ranks of individuals are affected differently by atlas scale changes. Our work serves as a guideline for researchers to optimize the selection of tractography parameters and illustrates how biological characteristics of the brain derived in network neuroscience studies can be affected by the choice of atlas parcellation schemes.

Kuang Wei, Matthew Cieslak, Clint Greene, Scott T. Grafton and Jean M. Carlson
Network Neuroscience
Volume: 1
Number: 4
Pages: 446-467
Date: December, 2017
ICB Affiliated Authors: Jean M Carlson, Scott T Grafton