Stochastic Geometric Network Models for Groups of Functional and Structural Connectomes

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Structural and functional connectomes are emerging as important instruments in the study of normal brain function and in the development of new biomarkers for a variety of brain disorders. In contrast to single-network studies that presently dominate the (non-connectome) network literature, connectome analyses typically examine groups of empirical networks and then compare these against standard (stochastic) network models. The current practice in connectome studies is to employ stochastic network models derived from social science and engineering contexts as the basis for the comparison. However, these are not necessarily best suited for the analysis of connectomes, which often contain groups of very closely related networks, such as occurs with a set of controls or a set of patients with a specific disorder. This paper studies important extensions of standard stochastic models that make them better adapted for analysis of connectomes, and develops new statistical fitting methodologies that account for inter-subject variations. The extensions explicitly incorporate geometric information about a network based on distances and inter/intra hemispherical asymmetries (to supplement ordinary degree-distribution information), and utilize a stochastic choice of network density levels (for fixed threshold networks) to better capture the variance in average connectivity among subjects. The new statistical tools introduced here allow one to compare groups of networks by matching both their average characteristics and the variations among them. A notable finding is that connectomes have high "smallworldness" beyond that arising from geometric and degree considerations alone.