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CommsVAE: Learning the brain's macroscale communication dynamics using coupled sequential VAEs

by   Eloy Geenjaar, et al.
Georgia Institute of Technology

Communication within or between complex systems is commonplace in the natural sciences and fields such as graph neural networks. The brain is a perfect example of such a complex system, where communication between brain regions is constantly being orchestrated. To analyze communication, the brain is often split up into anatomical regions that each perform certain computations. These regions must interact and communicate with each other to perform tasks and support higher-level cognition. On a macroscale, these regions communicate through signal propagation along the cortex and along white matter tracts over longer distances. When and what types of signals are communicated over time is an unsolved problem and is often studied using either functional or structural data. In this paper, we propose a non-linear generative approach to communication from functional data. We address three issues with common connectivity approaches by explicitly modeling the directionality of communication, finding communication at each timestep, and encouraging sparsity. To evaluate our model, we simulate temporal data that has sparse communication between nodes embedded in it and show that our model can uncover the expected communication dynamics. Subsequently, we apply our model to temporal neural data from multiple tasks and show that our approach models communication that is more specific to each task. The specificity of our method means it can have an impact on the understanding of psychiatric disorders, which are believed to be related to highly specific communication between brain regions compared to controls. In sum, we propose a general model for dynamic communication learning on graphs, and show its applicability to a subfield of the natural sciences, with potential widespread scientific impact.


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