Structural covariance networks are coupled to expression of genes enriched in supragranular layers of the human cortex

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Abstract

Complex network topology is characteristic of many biological systems, including anatomical and functional brain networks (connectomes). Here, we first constructed a structural covariance network from MRI measures of cortical thickness on 296 healthy volunteers, aged 14–24 years. Next, we designed a new algorithm for matching sample locations from the Allen Brain Atlas to the nodes of the SCN. Subsequently we used this to define, transcriptomic brain networks by estimating gene co-expression between pairs of cortical regions. Finally, we explored the hypothesis that transcriptional networks and structural MRI connectomes are coupled.

A transcriptional brain network (TBN) and a structural covariance network (SCN) were correlated across connection weights and showed qualitatively similar complex topological properties: assortativity, small-worldness, modularity, and a rich-club. In both networks, the weight of an edge was inversely related to the anatomical (Euclidean) distance between regions. There were differences between networks in degree and distance distributions: the transcriptional network had a less fat-tailed degree distribution and a less positively skewed distance distribution than the SCN. However, cortical areas connected to each other within modules of the SCN had significantly higher levels of whole genome co-expression than expected by chance.

Nodes connected in the SCN had especially high levels of expression and co-expression of a human supragranular enriched (HSE) gene set that has been specifically located to supragranular layers of human cerebral cortex and is known to be important for large-scale, long-distance cortico-cortical connectivity. This coupling of brain transcriptome and connectome topologies was largely but not entirely accounted for by the common constraint of physical distance on both networks.

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