Rich club analysis in the Alzheimer's disease connectome reveals a relatively undisturbed structural core network

Hum Brain Mapp. 2015 Aug;36(8):3087-103. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22830. Epub 2015 Jun 3.


Diffusion imaging can assess the white matter connections within the brain, revealing how neural pathways break down in Alzheimer's disease (AD). We analyzed 3-Tesla whole-brain diffusion-weighted images from 202 participants scanned by the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative-50 healthy controls, 110 with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and 42 AD patients. From whole-brain tractography, we reconstructed structural brain connectivity networks to map connections between cortical regions. We tested whether AD disrupts the "rich club" - a network property where high-degree network nodes are more interconnected than expected by chance. We calculated the rich club properties at a range of degree thresholds, as well as other network topology measures including global degree, clustering coefficient, path length, and efficiency. Network disruptions predominated in the low-degree regions of the connectome in patients, relative to controls. The other metrics also showed alterations, suggesting a distinctive pattern of disruption in AD, less pronounced in MCI, targeting global brain connectivity, and focusing on more remotely connected nodes rather than the central core of the network. AD involves severely reduced structural connectivity; our step-wise rich club coefficients analyze points to disruptions predominantly in the peripheral network components; other modalities of data are needed to know if this indicates impaired communication among non rich club regions. The highly connected core was relatively preserved, offering new evidence on the neural basis of progressive risk for cognitive decline.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; DWI; MRI; graph theory; mild cognitive impairment; rich club.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • Neural Pathways / pathology