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Learning About Learning: Mining Human Brain Sub-Network Biomarkers from fMRI Data

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Journal Article - Open Access

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University at Albany Albany United States

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Modeling the brain as a functional network can reveal the relationship between distributed neurophysiological processes and functional interactions between brain structures. Existing literature on functional brain networks focuses mainly on a battery of network properties in resting state employing, for example, modularity, clustering, or path length among regions. In contrast, we seek to uncover functionally connected subnetworks that predict or correlate with cohort differences and are conserved within the subjects within a cohort. We focus on differences in both the rate of learning as well as overall performance in a sensorimotor task across subjects and develop a principled approach for the discovery of discriminative subgraphs of functional connectivity based on imaging acquired during practice. We discover two statistically significant subgraph regions one involving multiple regions in the visual cortex and another involving the parietal operculum and planum temporale. High functional coherence in the former characterizes sessions in which subjects take longer to perform the task, while high coherence in the latter is associated with high learning rate performance improvement across trials. Our proposed methodology is general, in that it can be applied to other cognitive tasks, to study learning or to differentiate between healthy patients and patients with neurological disorders, by revealing the salient interactions among brain regions associated with the observed global state. The discovery of such significant discriminative subgraphs promises a better data-driven understanding of the dynamic brain processes associated with high-level cognitive functions.

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