Interpreting and validating complexity and causality in lesion-symptom prognoses

Mohamed L. Seghier, Cathy J. Price

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This paper considers the steps needed to generate pragmatic and interpretable lesion-symptom mappings that can be used for clinically reliable prognoses. The novel contributions are 3-fold. We first define and inter-relate five neurobiological and five methodological constraints that need to be accounted for when interpreting lesion-symptom associations and generating synthetic lesion data. The first implication is that, because of these constraints, lesion-symptom mapping needs to focus on probabilistic relationships between Lesion and Symptom, with Lesion as a multivariate spatial pattern, Symptom as a time-dependent behavioural profile and evidence that Lesion raises the probability of Symptom. The second implication is that in order to assess the strength of probabilistic causality, we need to distinguish between causal lesion sites, incidental lesion sites, spared but dysfunctional sites and intact sites, all of which might affect the accuracy of the predictions and prognoses generated. We then formulate lesion-symptom mappings in logical notations, including combinatorial rules, that are then used to evaluate and better understand complex brain-behaviour relationships. The logical and theoretical framework presented applies to any type of neurological disorder but is primarily discussed in relationship to stroke damage. Accommodating the identified constraints, we discuss how the 1965 Bradford Hill criteria for inferring probabilistic causality, post hoc, from observed correlations in epidemiology - can be applied to lesion-symptom mapping in stroke survivors. Finally, we propose that rather than rely on post hoc evaluation of how well the causality criteria have been met, the neurobiological and methodological constraints should be addressed, a priori, by changing the experimental design of lesion-symptom mappings and setting up an open platform to share and validate the discovery of reliable and accurate lesion rules that are clinically useful.

Original languageBritish English
Article numberfcad178
JournalBrain Communications
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • brain-behaviour relationships
  • lesion-symptom mapping
  • logic
  • probabilistic causality
  • prognoses


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