Small-World Propensity and Weighted Brain Networks

Sci Rep. 2016 Feb 25;6:22057. doi: 10.1038/srep22057.


Quantitative descriptions of network structure can provide fundamental insights into the function of interconnected complex systems. Small-world structure, diagnosed by high local clustering yet short average path length between any two nodes, promotes information flow in coupled systems, a key function that can differ across conditions or between groups. However, current techniques to quantify small-worldness are density dependent and neglect important features such as the strength of network connections, limiting their application in real-world systems. Here, we address both limitations with a novel metric called the Small-World Propensity (SWP). In its binary instantiation, the SWP provides an unbiased assessment of small-world structure in networks of varying densities. We extend this concept to the case of weighted brain networks by developing (i) a standardized procedure for generating weighted small-world networks, (ii) a weighted extension of the SWP, and (iii) a method for mapping observed brain network data onto the theoretical model. In applying these techniques to compare real-world brain networks, we uncover the surprising fact that the canonical biological small-world network, the C. elegans neuronal network, has strikingly low SWP. These metrics, models, and maps form a coherent toolbox for the assessment and comparison of architectural properties in brain networks.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neural Networks, Computer*