Structural connectome quantifies tumour invasion and predicts survival in glioblastoma patients.


Glioblastoma is characterized by diffuse infiltration into the surrounding tissue along white matter tracts. Identifying the invisible tumour invasion beyond focal lesion promises more effective treatment, which remains a significant challenge. It is increasingly accepted that glioblastoma could widely affect brain structure and function, and further lead to reorganization of neural connectivity. Quantifying neural connectivity in glioblastoma may provide a valuable tool for identifying tumour invasion. Here we propose an approach to systematically identify tumour invasion by quantifying the structural connectome in glioblastoma patients. We first recruit two independent prospective glioblastoma cohorts: the discovery cohort with 117 patients and validation cohort with 42 patients. Next, we use diffusion MRI of healthy subjects to construct tractography templates indicating white matter connection pathways between brain regions. Next, we construct fractional anisotropy skeletons from diffusion MRI using an improved voxel projection approach based on the tract-based spatial statistics, where the strengths of white matter connection and brain regions are estimated. To quantify the disrupted connectome, we calculate the deviation of the connectome strengths of patients from that of the age-matched healthy controls. We then categorize the disruption into regional disruptions on the basis of the relative location of connectome to focal lesions. We also characterize the topological properties of the patient connectome based on the graph theory. Finally, we investigate the clinical, cognitive and prognostic significance of connectome metrics using Pearson correlation test, mediation test and survival models. Our results show that the connectome disruptions in glioblastoma patients are widespread in the normal-appearing brain beyond focal lesions, associated with lower preoperative performance (P < 0.001), impaired cognitive function (P < 0.001) and worse survival (overall survival: hazard ratio = 1.46, P = 0.049; progression-free survival: hazard ratio = 1.49, P = 0.019). Additionally, these distant disruptions mediate the effect on topological alterations of the connectome (mediation effect: clustering coefficient -0.017, P < 0.001, characteristic path length 0.17, P = 0.008). Further, the preserved connectome in the normal-appearing brain demonstrates evidence of connectivity reorganization, where the increased neural connectivity is associated with better overall survival (log-rank P = 0.005). In conclusion, our connectome approach could reveal and quantify the glioblastoma invasion distant from the focal lesion and invisible on the conventional MRI. The structural disruptions in the normal-appearing brain were associated with the topological alteration of the brain and could indicate treatment target. Our approach promises to aid more accurate patient stratification and more precise treatment planning.