Connectopic mapping techniques do not reflect functional gradients in the brain

David Mark Watson*, Tim Andrews

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Functional gradients, in which response properties change gradually across a brain region, have been proposed as a key organising principle of the brain. Recent studies using both resting-state and natural viewing paradigms have indicated that these gradients may be reconstructed from functional connectivity patterns via “connectopic mapping” analyses. However, local connectivity patterns may be confounded by spatial autocorrelations artificially introduced during data analysis, for instance by spatial smoothing or interpolation between coordinate spaces. Here, we investigate whether such confounds can produce illusory connectopic gradients. We generated datasets comprising random white noise in subjects’ functional volume spaces, then optionally applied spatial smoothing and/or interpolated the data to a different volume or surface space. Both smoothing and interpolation induced spatial autocorrelations sufficient for connectopic mapping to produce both volume- and surface-based local gradients in numerous brain regions. Furthermore, these gradients appeared highly similar to those obtained from real natural viewing data, although gradients generated from real and random data were statistically different in certain scenarios. We also reconstructed global gradients across the whole-brain – while these appeared less susceptible to artificial spatial autocorrelations, the ability to reproduce previously reported gradients was closely linked to specific features of the analysis pipeline. These results indicate that previously reported gradients identified by connectopic mapping techniques may be confounded by artificial spatial autocorrelations introduced during the analysis, and in some cases may reproduce poorly across different analysis pipelines. These findings imply that connectopic gradients need to be interpreted with caution.
Original languageEnglish
Article number120228
Number of pages15
Early online date18 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2023

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© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc.

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