Relationship between static and dynamic brain functional connectivity in autism spectrum disorders
Adam Liska1,2, Hongyuan You3, and Payel Das4

1CIMeC, Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy, 2Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Center for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems @ UniTn, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Rovereto, Italy, 3Department of Computer Science, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, United States, 4IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, NY, United States


There is an increased interest in the dynamics of brain functional connectivity, as measured via temporal covariance in resting-state fMRI BOLD signal, and its aberrations in brain disorders. We studied and compared two measures of regional dynamic behaviour, flexibility and variability, across two datasets and show that patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder show increased dynamic connectional variability in several brain regions. Furthermore, we establish an interesting association between static and dynamic functional connectivity measures.


There is an increased interest in the dynamics of brain functional connectivity, as measured via temporal covariance in resting-state fMRI (rsfMRI) BOLD signal, and its aberrations in brain disorders1. The most common analytical approach employs a sliding-window technique, in which functional connections are estimated within each window lasting on the order of tens of seconds. Novel network measures that characterize dynamic behaviour of individual brain regions have been introduced recently. Region flexibility2–4, which represents the number of times a given region changes its functional module assignment from one window to another, has been shown to play a role in learning in a task fMRI paradigm2. A conceptually simpler measure is region variability5, which quantifies the overall amount of change in the set of all node’s connections across all windows. Characteristic changes in variability have been described in a number of brain disorders, including schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders (ASD)5.

While the measures are conceptually appealing and receive increased attention, their common properties have not yet been studied in detail. We first establish how reproducible they are across different choices of window lengths and datasets. Second, we test whether region variability changes described recently in ASD patients are recapitulated by similar changes in flexibility. Lastly, we study whether a node’s dynamic behaviour can be summarised by static and therefore simpler connectivity measures and whether these properties hold also in synthetic stationary BOLD time series.


The primary dataset employed in the study is the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE)6, a large publicly available dataset of rsfMRI acquisitions of subjects diagnosed with ASD and healthy controls. The preprocessed acquisitions are available as part of the Preprocessed Connectomes Project (http://preprocessed-connectomes-project.org/abide/, C-PAC pipeline). We limited ourselves to acquisitions with repetition time of 2s (sites NYU, SDSU, UM, USM). This resulted in a dataset of 147 subjects with ASD and 146 healthy controls. We extracted rsfMRI time series using a 200-region parcellation CC2007, estimated subject-wise time-resolved connectivity matrices with windows lengths ranging from 10 to 20 volumes (20-40s) and calculated region-based network measures of connection strength, diversity8, and variability5. Next, we partitioned these functional networks into time-resolved modules9 and used these partitions to estimate region flexibility2. We analysed the relationship of these four measures and investigated whether ASD is associated with region flexibility changes using a Student’s two-sample t-test with site and mean framewise displacement as covariates.

We furthermore repeated the analyses on two additional datasets: (1) a secondary rsfMRI dataset of repeated high quality acquisitions from a single individual, MyConnectome10, and (2) simulated BOLD time series11 that were stationary but matched in covariance structure and mean spectral content to the acquisitions from MyConnectome.


1. Subjects diagnosed with ASD showed increased flexibility across regions of sensorimotor and default mode networks and across all examined window lengths (Fig. 1). These results are in line with previous investigations of dynamic connectivity in ASD using region variability5.

2. Flexibility values calculated across different window lengths are correlated (Fig. 2A), although less so than variability values, which seem to be less affected by the choice of the window length (Fig. 2B). Furthermore, variability and flexibility values of all regions in a single subject are positively correlated (Fig. 2C). These results hold in the MyConnectome dataset as well (Fig. 2D-F).

3. A clear association between static and dynamic network measures exists, with connection strength being anticorrelated with flexibility and variability, while connection diversity is positively correlated with both (Fig. 3). Similar associations between static and dynamic functional connectivity measures also hold for stationary synthetic BOLD time series (Fig. 4).


We have shown that region flexibility and variability, albeit computationally different, are positively correlated and therefore both capture similar functional connectivity properties of brain regions. We have furthermore demonstrated that several regions within the sensorimotor and default mode networks show higher flexibility in subjects diagnosed with ASD as compared to healthy controls, suggesting a more variable functional network structure within a single scan in patients with ASD. The association between static and dynamic network measures, such as connection diversity and region flexibility, is intriguing and should be further investigated under different conditions and in different patient groups in order to properly disentangle the contributions of static and dynamic changes to the described inter-group differences.


No acknowledgement found.


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Figure 1: Brain regions showing changes in region flexibility (p < 0.05, FDR corrected) across three different window lengths (20, 30 and 40s). All significant changes represent increases in flexibility in the ASD cohort. While the extent of these differences decreased with longer windows, they were present across all window lengths.

Figure 2: The effect of window length on region flexibility and variability and their relationship in a representative subject from the ABIDE dataset. Each dot represents a single region. Region flexibility values are correlated when calculated with different window sizes (A, r = 0.45), but less so than variability (B, r = 0.91). There is an association between regional flexibility and variability values (C, r = 0.67).

Similar effect is seen in individual sessions of the MyConnectome dataset, shown here for a representative session (session 014; D, r = 0.51, E, r = 0.94, F, 0.59).

Figure 3: Relationship of static and dynamic functional connectivity measures (single session from MyConnectome). Each dot represents a single region. Flexibility is negatively associated with connection strength (A, r = -0.57) and positively associated with connection diversity (B, r = 0.49). The same holds for variability (C, r = -0.76, D, r = 0.62).

Figure 4: Relationship of static and dynamic functional connectivity measures (synthetic BOLD time series). Each dot represents a single region. Just as in real BOLD time series, variability is negatively associated with connection strength (A, r = -0.77) and positively associated with connection diversity (B, r = 0.56).

Proc. Intl. Soc. Mag. Reson. Med. 25 (2017)