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Fast construction of voxel-level functional connectivity graphs

Kristian Loewe12*, Marcus Grueschow3, Christian M Stoppel14, Rudolf Kruse2 and Christian Borgelt5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, Experimental Neurology, Otto-von-Guericke Universität, Leipziger Str. 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany

2 Department of Knowledge and Language Processing, Otto-von-Guericke Universität, Magdeburg, Germany

3 Department of Economics, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

4 Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité - Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany

5 European Centre for Soft Computing, Mieres (Asturias), Spain

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BMC Neuroscience 2014, 15:78  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-15-78

Published: 19 June 2014



Graph-based analysis of fMRI data has recently emerged as a promising approach to study brain networks. Based on the assessment of synchronous fMRI activity at separate brain sites, functional connectivity graphs are constructed and analyzed using graph-theoretical concepts. Most previous studies investigated region-level graphs, which are computationally inexpensive, but bring along the problem of choosing sensible regions and involve blurring of more detailed information. In contrast, voxel-level graphs provide the finest granularity attainable from the data, enabling analyses at superior spatial resolution. They are, however, associated with considerable computational demands, which can render high-resolution analyses infeasible. In response, many existing studies investigating functional connectivity at the voxel-level reduced the computational burden by sacrificing spatial resolution.


Here, a novel, time-efficient method for graph construction is presented that retains the original spatial resolution. Performance gains are instead achieved through data reduction in the temporal domain based on dichotomization of voxel time series combined with tetrachoric correlation estimation and efficient implementation.


By comparison with graph construction based on Pearson’s r, the technique used by the majority of previous studies, we find that the novel approach produces highly similar results an order of magnitude faster.


Its demonstrated performance makes the proposed approach a sensible and efficient alternative to customary practice. An open source software package containing the created programs is freely available for download.

Functional connectivity; Graph theory; Tetrachoric correlation; Resting-state; fMRI