Optimizing connectivity-driven brain parcellation using ensemble clustering
This work addresses the problem of constructing a unified, topologically optimal connectivity-based brain atlas. The proposed approach aggregates an ensemble partition from individual parcellations without label agreement, providing a balance between sufficiently flexible individual parcellations and intuitive representation of the average topological structure of the connectome. The methods exploit a previously proposed dense connectivity representation, first performing graph-based hierarchical parcellation of individual brains, and subsequently aggregating the individual parcellations into a consensus parcellation. The search for consensus—based on the hard ensemble (HE) algorithm—approximately minimizes the sum of cluster membership distances, effectively estimating a pseudo-Karcher mean of individual parcellations. Computational stability, graph structure preservation, and biological relevance of the simplified representation resulting from the proposed parcellation are assessed on the Human Connectome Project data set. These aspects are assessed using (1) edge weight distribution divergence with respect to the dense connectome representation, (2) interhemispheric symmetry, (3) network characteristics’ stability and agreement with respect to individually and anatomically parcellated networks, and (4) performance of the simplified connectome in a biological sex classification task. Ensemble parcellation was found to be highly stable with respect to subject sampling, outperforming anatomical atlases and other connectome-based parcellations in classification as well as preserving global connectome properties. The HEbased parcellation also showed a degree of symmetry comparable with anatomical atlases and a high degree of spatial contiguity without using explicit priors.