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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 May 22;115(21):E4880-E4889. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1720186115. Epub 2018 May 8.

Specificity and robustness of long-distance connections in weighted, interareal connectomes.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104.
Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104;
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104.
Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104.


Brain areas' functional repertoires are shaped by their incoming and outgoing structural connections. In empirically measured networks, most connections are short, reflecting spatial and energetic constraints. Nonetheless, a small number of connections span long distances, consistent with the notion that the functionality of these connections must outweigh their cost. While the precise function of long-distance connections is unknown, the leading hypothesis is that they act to reduce the topological distance between brain areas and increase the efficiency of interareal communication. However, this hypothesis implies a nonspecificity of long-distance connections that we contend is unlikely. Instead, we propose that long-distance connections serve to diversify brain areas' inputs and outputs, thereby promoting complex dynamics. Through analysis of five weighted interareal network datasets, we show that long-distance connections play only minor roles in reducing average interareal topological distance. In contrast, areas' long-distance and short-range neighbors exhibit marked differences in their connectivity profiles, suggesting that long-distance connections enhance dissimilarity between areal inputs and outputs. Next, we show that-in isolation-areas' long-distance connectivity profiles exhibit nonrandom levels of similarity, suggesting that the communication pathways formed by long connections exhibit redundancies that may serve to promote robustness. Finally, we use a linearization of Wilson-Cowan dynamics to simulate the covariance structure of neural activity and show that in the absence of long-distance connections a common measure of functional diversity decreases. Collectively, our findings suggest that long-distance connections are necessary for supporting diverse and complex brain dynamics.


communication; complex networks; connectome; wiring cost

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