Whole-brain connectome data characterize the connections among distributed neural populations as a set of edges in a large network, and neuroscience research aims to systematically investigate associations between brain connectome and clinical or experimental conditions as covariates. A covariate is often related to a number of edges connecting multiple brain areas in an organized structure. However, in practice, neither the covariate-related edges nor the structure is known. Therefore, the understanding of underlying neural mechanisms relies on statistical methods that are capable of simultaneously identifying covariate-related connections and recognizing their network topological structures. The task can be challenging because of false-positive noise and almost infinite possibilities of edges combining into subnetworks. To address these challenges, we propose a new statistical approach to handle multivariate edge variables as outcomes and output covariate-related subnetworks. We first study the graph properties of covariate-related subnetworks from a graph and combinatorics perspective and accordingly bridge the inference for individual connectome edges and covariate-related subnetworks. Next, we develop efficient algorithms to exact covariate-related subnetworks from the whole-brain connectome data with an |$\ell_0$| norm penalty. We validate the proposed methods based on an extensive simulation study, and we benchmark our performance against existing methods. Using our proposed method, we analyze two separate resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging data sets for schizophrenia research and obtain highly replicable disease-related subnetworks.

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