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Functional connectivity and structural covariance between regions of interest can be measured more accurately using multivariate distance correlation

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Geerligs, L 
Henson, RN 


Studies of brain-wide functional connectivity or structural covariance typically use measures like the Pearson correlation coefficient, applied to data that have been averaged across voxels within regions of interest (ROIs). However, averaging across voxels may result in biased connectivity estimates when there is inhomogeneity within those ROIs, e.g., sub-regions that exhibit different patterns of functional connectivity or structural covariance. Here, we propose a new measure based on "distance correlation"; a test of multivariate dependence of high dimensional vectors, which allows for both linear and non-linear dependencies. We used simulations to show how distance correlation out-performs Pearson correlation in the face of inhomogeneous ROIs. To evaluate this new measure on real data, we use resting-state fMRI scans and T1 structural scans from 2 sessions on each of 214 participants from the Cambridge Centre for Ageing & Neuroscience (Cam-CAN) project. Pearson correlation and distance correlation showed similar average connectivity patterns, for both functional connectivity and structural covariance. Nevertheless, distance correlation was shown to be 1) more reliable across sessions, 2) more similar across participants, and 3) more robust to different sets of ROIs. Moreover, we found that the similarity between functional connectivity and structural covariance estimates was higher for distance correlation compared to Pearson correlation. We also explored the relative effects of different preprocessing options and motion artefacts on functional connectivity. Because distance correlation is easy to implement and fast to compute, it is a promising alternative to Pearson correlations for investigating ROI-based brain-wide connectivity patterns, for functional as well as structural data.



distance correlation, functional connectivity, graph theory, multivariate, resting state, structural covariance

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Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/H008217/1)
Wellcome Trust (103838/Z/14/Z)
MRC (unknown)
Medical Research Council (MC_U105597119)
Medical Research Council (MC_U105579226)
The Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN) research was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (grant number BB/H008217/1). LG is funded by a Rubicon grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. RH is funded by UK Medical Research Council Programme MC-A060-5PR10.