Quasi-periodic patterns of brain intrinsic activity coordinate the functional connections in humans

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Yousefi, Behnaz
Keilholz, Shella
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The brain is a complex self-organizing biophysical system and intrinsically very active. How such intrinsic activity organizes the brain in humans is widely being studied during resting-state using functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI) and the functional connectivity (FC) metric. FC, calculated as the Pearson correlation between rsfMRI timeseries from different brain areas, indicates coherent activity on average over time, and can reflect some spatial aspects of the brain’s intrinsic organization. For example, based on the FC profile of each area, the cerebral cortex can be parcellated into a few resting-state networks (RSNs) or exhibit a few functional connectivity gradients (FCGs). Brain is a complex system and exhibits varied dynamic spatiotemporal regimes of coherent activity, which are still poorly understood. A subset of such regimes should be giving rise to FC, yet they might entail significantly insightful aspects about the brain’s self-organizing processes, which cannot be captured by FC. Among such dynamic regimes is the quasi-periodic pattern (QPP), obtained by identifying and averaging similar ~20s-long segments of rsfMRI timeseries. QPP involves a cycle of activation and deactivation of different areas with different timings, such that the overall activity within QPP resembles RSNs and FCGs, suggesting QPP might be contributing to FC. To robustly detect multiple QPPs, method improvements were implemented and three primary QPPs were thoroughly characterized. Within these QPPs activity propagates along the functional gradients at the cerebral cortex and most subcortical regions, in a well-coordinated way, because of the consistencies and synchronies across all brain regions which reasonably accord with the consensus on the structural connections. Nuanced timing differences between regions and the closed flow of activity throughout the brain suggest drivers for these patterns. When three QPPs are removed from rsfMRI timeseries, FC within and particularly between RSNs remarkably reduces, illustrating their dominant contribution. Together, our results suggest a few recurring spatiotemporal patterns of intrinsic activity might be dominantly coordinating the functional connections across the whole brain and serving self-organization. These intrinsic patterns possibly interact with the external tasks, affecting performance, or might provide more sensitive biomarkers in certain disorders and diseases.
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