Structural core of the executive control network: a high angular resolution diffusion MRI study

Kai-kai Shen, Thomas Welton, Matthew Lyon, Andrew N. McCorkindale, Greg T. Sutherland, Samantha Burnham, Jurgen Fripp, Ralph Martins, Stuart M. Grieve*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Executive function (EF) is a set of cognitive capabilities considered essential for successful daily living, and is negatively affected by ageing and neurodegenerative conditions. Underpinning EF performance are functional nodes in the executive control network (ECN), while the structural connectivity underlying this network is not well understood. In this paper, we evaluated the structural white matter tracts that interconnect the ECN and investigated their relationship to the EF performance. Using high-angular resolution diffusion MRI data, we performed tractography analysis of structural connectivity in a cognitively normal cohort (n = 140), specifically targeting the connectivity between ECN nodes. Our data revealed the presence of a strongly-connected “structural core” of the ECN comprising three components: interhemispheric frontal connections, a fronto-parietal subnetwork and fronto-striatal connections between right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and right caudate. These pathways were strongly correlated with EF performance (p =.003). Post-hoc analysis of subregions within the significant ECN connections showed that these effects were driven by a highly specific subset of interconnected cortical regions. The structural core subnetwork of the functional ECN may be an important feature crucial to a better future understanding of human cognition and behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1226-1236
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020

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