Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by topological changes in large-scale functional brain networks. These networks are commonly analysed using undirected correlations between the activation signals of brain regions. However, this approach suffers from an important drawback: it assumes that brain regions get activated at the same time, despite previous evidence showing that brain activation features causality, with signals being typically generated in one region and then propagated to other ones. Thus, in order to address this limitation, in this study we developed a new method to assess whole-brain directed functional connectivity in patients with PD and healthy controls using anti-symmetric delayed correlations, which capture better this underlying causality. To test the potential of this new method, we compared it to standard connectivity analyses based on undirected correlations. Our results show that whole-brain directed connectivity identifies widespread changes in the functional networks of PD patients compared to controls, in contrast to undirected methods. These changes are characterized by increased global efficiency, clustering and transitivity as well as lower modularity. In addition, changes in the directed connectivity patterns in the precuneus, thalamus and superior frontal gyrus were associated with motor, executive and memory deficits in PD patients. Altogether, these findings suggest that directional brain connectivity is more sensitive to functional network changes occurring in PD compared to standard methods. This opens new opportunities for the analysis of brain connectivity and the development of new brain connectivity markers to track PD progression.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience