Individual differences and time-varying features of modular brain architecture

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Recent studies have suggested that human brain functional networks are topologically organized into functionally specialized but inter-connected modules to facilitate efficient information processing and highly flexible cognitive function. However, these studies have mainly focused on group-level network modularity analyses using “static” functional connectivity approaches. How these extraordinary modular brain structures vary across individuals and spontaneously reconfigure over time remain largely unknown. Here, we employed multiband resting-state functional MRI data (N=105) from the Human Connectome Project and a graph-based modularity analysis to systematically investigate individual variability and dynamic properties in modular brain networks. We showed that the modular structures of brain networks dramatically vary across individuals, with higher modular variability primarily in the association cortex (e.g., fronto-parietal and attention systems) and lower variability in the primary systems. Moreover, brain regions spontaneously changed their module affiliations on a temporal scale of seconds, which cannot be simply attributable to head motion and sampling error. Interestingly, the spatial pattern of intra-subject dynamic modular variability largely overlapped with that of inter-subject modular variability, both of which were highly reproducible across repeated scanning sessions. Finally, the regions with remarkable individual/temporal modular variability were closely associated with network connectors and the number of cognitive components, suggesting a potential contribution to information integration and flexible cognitive function. Collectively, our findings highlight individual modular variability and the notable dynamic characteristics in large-scale brain networks, which enhance our understanding of the neural substrates underlying individual differences in a variety of cognition and behaviors.

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