Eigenvector alignment : assessing functional network changes in amnestic mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease

Clark, Ruaridh A. and Nikolova, Niia and McGeown, William J. and Macdonald, Malcolm (2020) Eigenvector alignment : assessing functional network changes in amnestic mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. PLOS One, 15 (8). e0231294. ISSN 1932-6203 (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231294)

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Eigenvector alignment, introduced herein to investigate human brain functional networks, is adapted from methods developed to detect influential nodes and communities in networked systems. It is used to identify differences in the brain networks of subjects with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI) and healthy controls (HC). Well-established methods exist for analysing connectivity networks composed of brain regions, including the widespread use of centrality metrics such as eigenvector centrality. However, these metrics provide only limited information on the relationship between regions, with this understanding often sought by comparing the strength of pairwise functional connectivity. Our holistic approach, eigenvector alignment, considers the impact of all functional connectivity changes before assessing the strength of the functional relationship, i.e. alignment, between any two regions. This is achieved by comparing the placement of regions in a Euclidean space defined by the network's dominant eigenvectors. Eigenvector alignment recognises the strength of bilateral connectivity in cortical areas of healthy control subjects, but also reveals degradation of this commissural system in those with AD. Surprisingly little structural change is detected for key regions in the Default Mode Network, despite significant declines in the functional connectivity of these regions. In contrast, regions in the auditory cortex display significant alignment changes that begin in aMCI and are the most prominent structural changes for those with AD. Alignment differences between aMCI and AD subjects are detected, including notable changes to the hippocampal regions. These findings suggest eigenvector alignment can play a complementary role, alongside established network analytic approaches, to capture how the brain's functional networks develop and adapt when challenged by disease processes such as AD.