Highly adaptive tests for group differences in brain functional connectivity

Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) and other technologies have been offering evidence and insights showing that altered brain functional networks are associated with neurological illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease. Exploring brain networks of clinical populations compared to those of controls would be a key inquiry to reveal underlying neurological processes related to such illnesses. For such a purpose, group-level inference is a necessary first step in order to establish whether there are any genuinely disrupted brain subnetworks. Such an analysis is also challenging due to the high dimensionality of the parameters in a network model and high noise levels in neuroimaging data. We are still in the early stage of method development as highlighted by Varoquaux and Craddock (2013) that "there is currently no unique solution, but a spectrum of related methods and analytical strategies" to learn and compare brain connectivity. In practice the important issue of how to choose several critical parameters in estimating a network, such as what association measure to use and what is the sparsity of the estimated network, has not been carefully addressed, largely because the answers are unknown yet. For example, even though the choice of tuning parameters in model estimation has been extensively discussed in the literature, as to be shown here, an optimal choice of a parameter for network estimation may not be optimal in the current context of hypothesis testing. Arbitrarily choosing or mis-specifying such parameters may lead to extremely low-powered tests. Here we develop highly adaptive tests to detect group differences in brain connectivity while accounting for unknown optimal choices of some tuning parameters. The proposed tests combine statistical evidence against a null hypothesis from multiple sources across a range of plausible tuning parameter values reflecting uncertainty with the unknown truth. These highly adaptive tests are not only easy to use, but also high-powered robustly across various scenarios. The usage and advantages of these novel tests are demonstrated on an Alzheimer's disease dataset and simulated data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-639
Number of pages15
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Data collection and sharing for this project was funded by the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) ( National Institutes of Health Grant U01 AG024904 ) and DOD ADNI ( U.S. Department of Defense award number W81XWH-12-2-0012 ). ADNI is funded by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and through generous contributions from the following: Alzheimer's Association; Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation; BioClinica, Inc.; Biogen Idec Inc.; Bristol-Myers Squibb Company; Eisai Inc.; Elan Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Eli Lilly and Company; F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd and its affiliated company Genentech, Inc.; GE Healthcare; Innogenetics, N.V.; IXICO Ltd.; Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy Research Development, LLC.; Johnson Johnson Pharmaceutical Research Development LLC.; Medpace, Inc.; Merck & Co., Inc.; Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC.; NeuroRx Research; Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation; Pfizer Inc.; Piramal Imaging; Servier; Synarc Inc.; and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is providing funds to support ADNI clinical sites in Canada. Private sector contributions are facilitated by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health ( www.fnih.org ). The grantee organization is the Northern California Institute for Research and Education, and the study is coordinated by the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study at the University of California, San Diego. ADNI data are disseminated by the Laboratory for Neuro Imaging at the University of California, Los Angeles. This research was also supported by NIH grants P30 AG010129 and K01 AG030514 .

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful to the three reviewers for the many helpful and constructive comments. The authors thank Zhiyuan Xu for help with the ADNI data. This research was supported by NIH grants R01GM113250 , R01HL105397 , R01HL116720 and R01GM081535 , and by the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Authors.


  • Covariance matrix
  • Graphical lasso
  • NBS
  • Precision matrix
  • SPU tests
  • Sparse estimation
  • Statistical power
  • rs-fMRI

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