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J Neurosci. 2019 Jul 31;39(31):6136-6149. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2912-18.2019. Epub 2019 May 31.

Structural Variability in the Human Brain Reflects Fine-Grained Functional Architecture at the Population Level.

Author information

FMRIB, Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging.
Department of Paediatrics, University of Oxford, OX3 9DU Oxford, United Kingdom.
Big Data Institute, Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery, University of Oxford, OX3 7LF Oxford, United Kingdom.
Department of Psychology.
NORMENT, Department of Mental Health and Addiction, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo 0424, Norway, and.
PROMENTA Research Center, Department of Psychology.
Department of Psychiatry, Diakonhjemmet Hospital, 0319 Oslo, Norway.
Center for Lifespan Changes in Brain and Cognition, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, 0373 Oslo, Norway.
FMRIB, Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging,


Human brain structure topography is thought to be related in part to functional specialization. However, the extent of such relationships is unclear. Here, using a data-driven, multimodal approach for studying brain structure across the lifespan (N = 484, n = 260 females), we demonstrate that numerous structural networks, covering the entire brain, follow a functionally meaningful architecture. These gray matter networks (GMNs) emerge from the covariation of gray matter volume and cortical area at the population level. We further reveal fine-grained anatomical signatures of functional connectivity. For example, within the cerebellum, a structural separation emerges between lobules that are functionally connected to distinct, mainly sensorimotor, cognitive and limbic regions of the cerebral cortex and subcortex. Structural modes of variation also replicate the fine-grained functional architecture seen in eight well defined visual areas in both task and resting-state fMRI. Furthermore, our study shows a structural distinction corresponding to the established segregation between anterior and posterior default-mode networks (DMNs). These fine-grained GMNs further cluster together to form functionally meaningful larger-scale organization. In particular, we identify a structural architecture bringing together the functional posterior DMN and its anticorrelated counterpart. In summary, our results demonstrate that the relationship between structural and functional connectivity is fine-grained, widespread across the entire brain, and driven by covariation in cortical area, i.e. likely differences in shape, depth, or number of foldings. These results suggest that neurotrophic events occur during development to dictate that the size and folding pattern of distant, functionally connected brain regions should vary together across subjects.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Questions about the relationship between structure and function in the human brain have engaged neuroscientists for centuries in a debate that continues to this day. Here, by investigating intersubject variation in brain structure across a large number of individuals, we reveal modes of structural variation that map onto fine-grained functional organization across the entire brain, and specifically in the cerebellum, visual areas, and default-mode network. This functionally meaningful structural architecture emerges from the covariation of gray matter volume and cortical folding. These results suggest that the neurotrophic events at play during development, and possibly evolution, which dictate that the size and folding pattern of distant brain regions should vary together across subjects, might also play a role in functional cortical specialization.


brain structure; cerebellum; cortical area; default-mode network; gray matter volume; visual areas

[Available on 2020-01-31]

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