Avena-Koenigsberger, Andrea; Xiaoran Yan; Artemy Kolchinsky; Martijn P. van den Heuvel and Olaf Sporns

Communication of signals among nodes in a complex network poses fundamental problems of efficiency and cost. Routing of messages along shortest paths requires global information about the topology, while spreading by diffusion, which operates according to local topological features, is informationally cheap but inefficient. We introduce a stochastic model for network communication that combines local and global information about the network topology to generate biased random walks on the network. The model generates a continuous spectrum of dynamics that converge onto shortest-path and random-walk (diffusion) communication processes at the limiting extremes. We implement the model on two cohorts of human connectome networks and investigate the effects of varying the global information bias on the network's communication cost. We identify routing strategies that approach a (highly efficient) shortest-path communication process with a relatively small global information bias on the system's dynamics. Moreover, we show that the cost of routing messages from and to hub nodes varies as a function of the global information bias driving the system's dynamics. Finally, we implement the model to identify individual subject differences from a communication dynamics point of view. The present framework departs from the classical shortest paths vs. diffusion dichotomy, unifying both models under a single family of dynamical processes that differ by the extent to which global information about the network topology influences the routing patterns of neural signals traversing the network. Author summary Brain network communication is typically approached from the perspective of the length of inferred paths and the cost of building and maintaining network connections. However, these analyses often disregard the dynamical processes taking place on the network and the additional costs that these processes incur. Here, we introduce a framework to study communication-cost trade-offs on a broad range of communication processes modeled as biased random walks. We control the system's dynamics that dictates the flow of messages traversing a network by biasing node's routing strategies with different degrees of knowledge about the topology of the network. On the human connectome, this framework uncovers a spectrum of dynamic communication processes, some of which can achieve efficient routing strategies at low informational cost.