Brain maturation is also accompanied by changes in the topology of structural and functional networks Fair et al. However, it is not clearly understood which features change and which remain stable over time. Second, this decrease mainly affected fiber tracts that had a large number of streamlines, were short, within modules and within hemispheres; such connections were affected significantly more often than would be expected given their number of occurrences in the network. Topological features of neural networks that are now being linked to cognitive performance Bullmore and Sporns concern their small-world and modular organization. Therefore, we analyzed all 3 types of fiber tracts in relation to topological changes. For example, functional connectivity with high global and local efficiency correlates with higher intelligence Li et al. In addition to volume changes, connectivity changes of axonal fiber bundles have been investigated using diffusion tensor imaging DTI.
For instance, patients with Alzheimer's disease were shown to lose long-distance projections leading to an increase in functional characteristic path length Stam et al. Here, we examined structural connectivity based on diffusion tensor imaging DTI in participants between 4 and 40 years of age. Several studies reported increased FA and decreased MD values from childhood into adulthood in several major fiber tracts and brain regions Faria et al. Published online Dec In addition to modifications in cortical fiber tracts, pronounced changes were observed in subcortical structures, such as basal ganglia and anterior cingulate cortex ACC. For small-world network with brain regions or ROIs as nodes and fiber tracts as edges, there are many connections between regions mostly located nearby. To test our hypothesis, we obtained DTI data from a large cohort of subjects between 4 and 40 years and constructed streamlines from deterministic tractography to identify fiber tracts in cortical and subcortical networks. This community structure of the brain network incorporating and balancing both segregation and integration of neural processing has been shown to be disrupted in schizophrenia, autism and Alzheimer's disease. This focus on certain types of fiber tracts goes beyond what would be expected by a type's prevalence within a network suggesting a preferential detachment of streamlines. Therefore, we analyzed all 3 types of fiber tracts in relation to topological changes. Conversely, a reduction in long-distance connectivity is well known to impair cognitive ability by adversely affecting efficiency and modularity of a network Kaiser and Hilgetag For example, functional connectivity with high global and local efficiency correlates with higher intelligence Li et al. The higher connectivity within modules can segregate different types of neural information processing while fewer connections between modules allow for information integration. Therefore, small-world network shows high efficiency in facilitating information flow at both the local and the global scales Latora and Marchiori , Third, streamline loss occurred earlier in females than in males. However, it is not clearly understood which features change and which remain stable over time. For example, connections between hemispheres or between the visual and frontolimbic network module are long distance. Thus, we hypothesized that certain types of fiber tracts may have been preferentially affected during development to retain important topological features during development. Finally, streamline reductions occurred at an earlier age in females than in males, suggesting sex-specific maturation of connectivity patterns during human brain maturation. First, our findings showed that the number of fiber tracts, small-world topology, and modular organization remained largely stable despite a substantial overall decrease in the number of streamlines with age. Our results show that the number of streamlines decreased overall with age while small-world and modular parameters did not change. These potentially spared fiber tract types are likely to include long-distance connections but also fiber tracts composed of fewer streamlines and intermodule fiber tracts. Reduced between-module connectivity was strongly associated with cognitive impairment in Alzheimer's patients de Haan et al. Freesurfer provides parcellation of 34 anatomical regions of cortices based on the Deskian atlas Fischl et al. Fiber tracts of the latter 2 types are often, but not necessarily, also long-distance connections Supplementary Material S5 and Fig. Brain maturation is also accompanied by changes in the topology of structural and functional networks Fair et al. DTI data were analyzed for small-world parameters, modularity, and the number of fiber tracts at the level of streamlines.
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