The structural organization of the brain can be characterized as a hierarchical ensemble of segregated modules linked by densely interconnected hub regions that facilitate distributed functional interactions. Disturbances to this network may be an important marker of abnormal development. Recently, several neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), have been framed as disorders of connectivity but the full nature and timing of these disturbances remain unclear. In this study, we use non-negative matrix factorization, a data-driven, multivariate approach, to model the structural network architecture of the brain as a set of superposed subnetworks, or network components. In an openly available dataset of 196 subjects scanned between 5 and 85 years we identify a set of robust and reliable subnetworks that develop in tandem with age and reflect both anatomically local and long-range, network hub connections. In a second experiment, we compare network components in a cohort of 51 high-functioning ASD adolescents to a group of age-matched controls. We identify a specific subnetwork representing an increase in local connection strength in the cingulate cortex in ASD (t = 3.44, P < 0.001). This work highlights possible long-term implications of alterations to the developmental trajectories of specific cortical subnetworks. Hum Brain Mapp 38:4169–4184, 2017.
- brain development
- non-negative matrix factorization