A systematic review on the quantitative relationship between structural and functional network connectivity strength in mammalian brains

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2019 Feb;39(2):189-209. doi: 10.1177/0271678X18809547. Epub 2018 Oct 30.


The mammalian brain is composed of densely connected and interacting regions, which form structural and functional networks. An improved understanding of the structure-function relation is crucial to understand the structural underpinnings of brain function and brain plasticity after injury. It is currently unclear how functional connectivity strength relates to structural connectivity strength. We obtained an overview of recent papers that report on correspondences between quantitative functional and structural connectivity measures in the mammalian brain. We included network studies in which functional connectivity was measured with resting-state fMRI, and structural connectivity with either diffusion-weighted MRI or neuronal tract tracers. Twenty-seven of the 28 included studies showed a positive structure-function relationship. Large inter-study variations were found comparing functional connectivity strength with either quantitative diffusion-based (correlation coefficient (r) ranges: 0.18-0.82) or neuronal tracer-based structural connectivity measures (r = 0.24-0.74). Two functional datasets demonstrated lower structure-function correlations with neuronal tracer-based (r = 0.22 and r = 0.30) than with diffusion-based measures (r = 0.49 and r = 0.65). The robust positive quantitative structure-function relationship supports the hypothesis that structural connectivity provides the hardware from which functional connectivity emerges. However, methodological differences between the included studies complicate the comparison across studies, which emphasize the need for validation and standardization in brain structure-function studies.

Keywords: Brain; diffusion magnetic resonance imaging; functional magnetic resonance imaging; network connectivity; neuronal tract-tracers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Connectome*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*