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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Functional neural network analysis in frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease using EEG and graph theory

Willem de Haan1*, Yolande AL Pijnenburg1, Rob LM Strijers2, Yolande van der Made2, Wiesje M van der Flier1, Philip Scheltens1 and Cornelis J Stam2

Author Affiliations

1 Alzheimer center and Department of Neurology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:101  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-101

Published: 21 August 2009

Abstract

Background

Although a large body of knowledge about both brain structure and function has been gathered over the last decades, we still have a poor understanding of their exact relationship. Graph theory provides a method to study the relation between network structure and function, and its application to neuroscientific data is an emerging research field. We investigated topological changes in large-scale functional brain networks in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) by means of graph theoretical analysis of resting-state EEG recordings. EEGs of 20 patients with mild to moderate AD, 15 FTLD patients, and 23 non-demented individuals were recorded in an eyes-closed resting-state. The synchronization likelihood (SL), a measure of functional connectivity, was calculated for each sensor pair in 0.5–4 Hz, 4–8 Hz, 8–10 Hz, 10–13 Hz, 13–30 Hz and 30–45 Hz frequency bands. The resulting connectivity matrices were converted to unweighted graphs, whose structure was characterized with several measures: mean clustering coefficient (local connectivity), characteristic path length (global connectivity) and degree correlation (network 'assortativity'). All results were normalized for network size and compared with random control networks.

Results

In AD, the clustering coefficient decreased in the lower alpha and beta bands (p < 0.001), and the characteristic path length decreased in the lower alpha and gamma bands (p < 0.05) compared to controls. In FTLD no significant differences with controls were found in these measures. The degree correlation decreased in both alpha bands in AD compared to controls (p < 0.05), but increased in the FTLD lower alpha band compared with controls (p < 0.01).

Conclusion

With decreasing local and global connectivity parameters, the large-scale functional brain network organization in AD deviates from the optimal 'small-world' network structure towards a more 'random' type. This is associated with less efficient information exchange between brain areas, supporting the disconnection hypothesis of AD. Surprisingly, FTLD patients show changes in the opposite direction, towards a (perhaps excessively) more 'ordered' network structure, possibly reflecting a different underlying pathophysiological process.