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Neuroimage. 2010 Feb 15;49(4):3187-97. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.11.009. Epub 2009 Nov 12.

Combining functional and anatomical connectivity reveals brain networks for auditory language comprehension.

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1
Department of Neurology, Medical Physics, University Medical Center Freiburg, D-79106 Freiburg, Germany. dorothee.saur@uniklinik-freiburg.de

Abstract

Cognitive functions are organized in distributed, overlapping, and interacting brain networks. Investigation of those large-scale brain networks is a major task in neuroimaging research. Here, we introduce a novel combination of functional and anatomical connectivity to study the network topology subserving a cognitive function of interest. (i) In a given network, direct interactions between network nodes are identified by analyzing functional MRI time series with the multivariate method of directed partial correlation (dPC). This method provides important improvements over shortcomings that are typical for ordinary (partial) correlation techniques. (ii) For directly interacting pairs of nodes, a region-to-region probabilistic fiber tracking on diffusion tensor imaging data is performed to identify the most probable anatomical white matter fiber tracts mediating the functional interactions. This combined approach is applied to the language domain to investigate the network topology of two levels of auditory comprehension: lower-level speech perception (i.e., phonological processing) and higher-level speech recognition (i.e., semantic processing). For both processing levels, dPC analyses revealed the functional network topology and identified central network nodes by the number of direct interactions with other nodes. Tractography showed that these interactions are mediated by distinct ventral (via the extreme capsule) and dorsal (via the arcuate/superior longitudinal fascicle fiber system) long- and short-distance association tracts as well as commissural fibers. Our findings demonstrate how both processing routines are segregated in the brain on a large-scale network level. Combining dPC with probabilistic tractography is a promising approach to unveil how cognitive functions emerge through interaction of functionally interacting and anatomically interconnected brain regions.

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