Functional Alignment with Anatomical Networks is Associated with Cognitive Flexibility

Nat Hum Behav. 2018;2(2):156-164. doi: 10.1038/s41562-017-0260-9. Epub 2017 Dec 18.


Cognitive flexibility describes the human ability to switch between modes of mental function to achieve goals. Mental switching is accompanied by transient changes in brain activity, which must occur atop an anatomical architecture that bridges disparate cortical and subcortical regions by underlying white matter tracts. However, an integrated perspective regarding how white matter networks might constrain brain dynamics during cognitive processes requiring flexibility has remained elusive. To address this challenge, we applied emerging tools from graph signal processing to examine whether BOLD signals measured at each point in time correspond to complex underlying anatomical networks in 28 individuals performing a perceptual task that probed cognitive flexibility. We found that the alignment between functional signals and the architecture of the underlying white matter network was associated with greater cognitive flexibility across subjects. By computing a concise measure using multi-modal neuroimaging data, we uncovered an integrated structure-function correlate of human behavior.