Individual Variability of the System-Level Organization of the Human Brain

Evan M. Gordon, Timothy O. Laumann, Babatunde Adeyemo, Steven E. Petersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging-based resting-state functional connectivity analyses of group average data have characterized large-scale systems that represent a high level in the organizational hierarchy of the human brain. These systems are likely to vary spatially across individuals, even after anatomical alignment, but the characteristics of this variance are unknown. Here, we characterized large-scale brain systems across two independent datasets of young adults. In these individuals, we were able to identify brain systems that were similar to those described in the group average, and we observed that individuals had consistent topological arrangement of the system features present in the group average. However, the size of system features varied across individuals in systematic ways, such that expansion of one feature of a given system predicted expansion of other parts of the system. Individual-specific systems also contained unique topological features not present in group average systems; some of these features were consistent across a minority of individuals. These effects were observed even after controlling for data quality and for the accuracy of anatomical registration. The variability characterized here has important implications for cognitive neuroscience investigations, which often assume the functional equivalence of aligned brain regions across individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-399
Number of pages14
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • brain systems
  • fMRI
  • functional connectivity
  • individual variability


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