Characterizing rapid fluctuations of resting state functional connectivity in demyelinating, neurodegenerative, and psychiatric conditions: From static to time-varying analysis

Paola Valsasina, Milagros Hidalgo De La Cruz, Massimo Filippi, Maria A. Rocca

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at resting state (RS) has been widely used to characterize the main brain networks. Functional connectivity (FC) has been mostly assessed assuming that FC is static across the whole fMRI examination. However, FC is highly variable at a very fast time-scale, as demonstrated by neurophysiological techniques. Time-varying functional connectivity (TVC) is a novel approach that allows capturing reoccurring patterns of interaction among functional brain networks. Aim of this review is to provide a description of the methods currently used to assess TVC on RS fMRI data, and to summarize the main results of studies applying TVC in healthy controls and patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). An overview of the main results obtained in neurodegenerative and psychiatric conditions is also provided. The most popular TVC approach is based on the so-called "sliding windows," in which the RS fMRI acquisition is divided in small temporal segments (windows). A window of fixed length is shifted over RS fMRI time courses, and data within each window are used to calculate FC and its variability over time. Sliding windows can be combined with clustering techniques to identify recurring FC states or used to assess global TVC properties of large-scale functional networks or specific brain regions. TVC studies have used heterogeneous methodologies so far. Despite this, similar results have been obtained across investigations. In healthy subjects, the default-mode network (DMN) exhibited the highest degree of connectivity dynamism. In MS patients, abnormal global TVC properties and TVC strengths were found mainly in sensorimotor, DMN and salience networks, and were associated with more severe structural MRI damage and with more severe physical and cognitive disability. Conversely, abnormal TVC measures of the temporal network were correlated with better cognitive performances and less severe fatigue. In patients with neurodegenerative and psychiatric conditions, TVC abnormalities of the DMN, attention and executive networks were associated to more severe clinical manifestations. TVC helps to provide novel insights into fundamental properties of functional networks, and improves the understanding of brain reorganization mechanisms. Future technical advances might help to clarify TVC association with disease prognosis and response to treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number00618
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberJUL
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019


  • fMRI
  • functional connectivity
  • multiple sclerosis
  • neurodegenerative conditions
  • resting state
  • time-varying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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