Interpreting the effects of altered brain anatomical connectivity on fMRI functional connectivity: a role for computational neural modeling

Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Nov 11:7:649. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00649. eCollection 2013.


Recently, there have been a large number of studies using resting state fMRI to characterize abnormal brain connectivity in patients with a variety of neurological, psychiatric, and developmental disorders. However, interpreting what the differences in resting state fMRI functional connectivity (rsfMRI-FC) actually reflect in terms of the underlying neural pathology has proved to be elusive because of the complexity of brain anatomical connectivity. The same is the case for task-based fMRI studies. In the last few years, several groups have used large-scale neural modeling to help provide some insight into the relationship between brain anatomical connectivity and the corresponding patterns of fMRI-FC. In this paper we review several efforts at using large-scale neural modeling to investigate the relationship between structural connectivity and functional/effective connectivity to determine how alterations in structural connectivity are manifested in altered patterns of functional/effective connectivity. Because the alterations made in the anatomical connectivity between specific brain regions in the model are known in detail, one can use the results of these simulations to determine the corresponding alterations in rsfMRI-FC. Many of these simulation studies found that structural connectivity changes do not necessarily result in matching changes in functional/effective connectivity in the areas of structural modification. Often, it was observed that increases in functional/effective connectivity in the altered brain did not necessarily correspond to increases in the strength of the anatomical connection weights. Note that increases in rsfMRI-FC in patients have been interpreted in some cases as resulting from neural plasticity. These results suggest that this interpretation can be mistaken. The relevance of these simulation findings to the use of functional/effective fMRI connectivity as biomarkers for brain disorders is also discussed.

Keywords: brain disorders; fMRI; functional connectivity; human brain; neural modeling.