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New map IDs the core of the human brain (7/2/2008)

Tags:
cerebral cortex, connectome, fmri

The first complete high-resolution map of the human cerebral cortex identifies a single network core that could be key to the workings of both hemispheres of the brain.
The first complete high-resolution map of the human cerebral cortex identifies a single network core that could be key to the workings of both hemispheres of the brain.
An international team of researchers has created the first complete high-resolution map of how millions of neural fibers in the human cerebral cortex -- the outer layer of the brain responsible for higher level thinking -- connect and communicate. Their groundbreaking work identified a single network core, or hub, that may be key to the workings of both hemispheres of the brain.

The work by the researchers from Indiana University, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, and Harvard Medical School marks a major step in understanding the most complicated and mysterious organ in the human body. It not only provides a comprehensive map of brain connections (the brain "connectome"), but also describes a novel application of a non-invasive technique that can be used by other scientists to continue mapping the trillions of neural connections in the brain at even greater resolution, which is becoming a new field of science termed "connectomics."

"This is one of the first steps necessary for building large-scale computational models of the human brain to help us understand processes that are difficult to observe, such as disease states and recovery processes to injuries," said Olaf Sporns, co-author of the study and neuroscientist at Indiana University.

The findings appear in the journal PLoS Biology today (June 30). Co-authors include Patric Hagmann and Reto Meuli, University Hospital Center and University of Lausanne; Leila Cammoun and Xavier Gigandet, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne; Van J. Wedeen, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical Center; and Christopher J. Honey, IU.

Until now, scientists have mostly used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to measure brain activity -- locating which parts of the brain become active during perception or cognition -- but there has been little understanding of the role of the underlying anatomy in generating this activity. What is known of neural fiber connections and pathways has largely been learned from animal studies, and so far, no complete map of brain connections in the human brain exists.

In this new study, a team of neuroimaging researchers led by Hagmann used state-of-the-art diffusion MRI technology, which is a non-invasive scanning technique that estimates fiber connection trajectories based on gradient maps of the diffusion of water molecules through brain tissue. A highly sensitive variant of the method, called diffusion spectrum imaging (DSI), can depict the orientation of multiple fibers that cross a single location. The study applies this technique to the entire human cortex, resulting in maps of millions of neural fibers running throughout this highly furrowed part of the brain.

Sporns then carried out a computational analysis trying to identify regions of the brain that played a more central role in the connectivity, serving as hubs in the cortical network. Surprisingly, these analyses revealed a single highly and densely connected structural core in the brain of all participants.

"We found that the core, the most central part of the brain, is in the medial posterior portion of the cortex, and it straddles both hemispheres," Sporns said. "This wasn't known before. Researchers have been interested in this part of the brain for other reasons. For example, when you're at rest, this area uses up a lot of metabolic energy, but until now it hasn't been clear why."

The researchers then asked whether the structural connections of the brain in fact shape its dynamic activity, Sporns said. The study examined the brains of five human participants who were imaged using both fMRI and DSI techniques to compare how closely the brain activity observed in the fMRI mapped to the underlying fiber networks.

"It turns out they're quite closely related," Sporns said. "We can measure a significant correlation between brain anatomy and brain dynamics. This means that if we know how the brain is connected we can predict what the brain will do."

Sporns said he and Hagmann plan to look at more brains soon, to map brain connectivity as brains develop and age, and as they change in the course of disease and dysfunction.

The study can be viewed at http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0060159.

The study was supported in part by the J.S. McDonnell Foundation, the University of Lausanne, Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM) of the Geneva-Lausanne Universities, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the National Institutes of Health.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Indiana University

Comments:

1. paresh

7/2/2008 11:54:16 AM MST

good work


2. DR INTERNETZ

7/2/2008 12:08:23 PM MST

I forsee robots with brains in our future..
Soon our new metal overlords will be birth by this new discovery!


3. Lol

7/2/2008 12:47:29 PM MST

What's the pope doing in my brain?


4. Trisha

7/2/2008 1:06:47 PM MST

Uhm, researchers have known about the pinneal gland being the central core of human processes for at least the better part of a decade. But this is interesting, nonetheless. Thanks =)


5. Ryan

7/2/2008 10:40:33 PM MST

"Uhm, researchers have known about the pinneal [sic] gland being the central core of human processes for at least the better part of a decade."

No, you're thinking of Descartes, who suggested this in the 1600s because the pineal gland was in the middle of the brain. He has long since been proven wrong, and this research is no more related to the pineal gland than to any other part of the brain.


6. mikes

7/2/2008 11:46:54 PM MST

There is no 'central core' where consciousness all comes together. Ryan has it right, the pinneal gland comes from Descartes. Research Global Workspace Theor y and Multiple Drafts Theory, amongst other things.



7. Jack

7/2/2008 11:47:25 PM MST

I love how this site is called Brain Mysteries... and this is an article about, well... not a mystery at all.

If only we could solve the brain, then maybe we could destroy it.


8. John

7/2/2008 11:58:47 PM MST

Trisha wasn't able to think, because she has only a ganglion. Please forgive her for that.

On to bigger and better things.

Men, it has been proven that our problem is that God gave us a penis and a brain and only enough blood to operate one at a time.


9. scott

7/3/2008 12:56:22 AM MST

c'mon now, look at this closely... none of us understand the brain to this day, we are light years from reproducing its read/write memory capabilities, and now we are seeing the first semi-accurate mapping? bravo fellows, bravo... may your mission be fruitful, and benefit those of us that understand what we know, and seek to understand more...


10. Mr X

7/3/2008 5:49:08 AM MST

Since bad people always use good people's ideas to try and get more power and money for themselves, you can be sure this kind of research will lead to bad consequences, such as perhaps efforts at mind-control or menacing robots that watch over us.


11. antimikes

7/3/2008 5:52:52 AM MST

quote 'There is no 'central core' where consciousness all comes together',
HTH do you know?


I think therefore I am.


12. vannatta

7/3/2008 6:19:42 AM MST

Dream recording (and playback), two way mind to midi/waveform converters, telepathic text messaging, enhanced memory and learning through wetware, even truly being able to connect our gray matter to one another, which will give a whole new meaning to "I understand what you mean" and a whole new outlook on mental disorders and disease, will give us so much more benefit. Sure the early adopters of the first one (and many others will be the porn industry) but Mr X - is that really evil? The benefits will clearly outweigh the problems...


13. antiantimikes

7/3/2008 7:22:02 AM MST

(Another Mike). We know there is not a single neural seat of consciousness (mostly) from brain damage patients: After focal brain damage in certain places, people loose the ability to have conscious awareness of what they are seeing. They can still see, they just don't know it (called blindsight). They retain conscious awareness of the other senses...therefore, conscious awareness of our environment is at least neurally segmented by the senses.


14. Spoonman

7/3/2008 9:00:22 AM MST

To the detractors: shut up. A team of qualified scientists working for years with advanced technology trumps your "common sense" belief in what is. You're no different than the creationists trying to debunk evolution because they don't understand the science. If you think you've got the right answer, you're more than welcome to conduct your own series of experiments that come up with conclusive, contradictory, repeatable and refutable results. Until that paper is published, you're a twink making comments about something he doesn't grok.


15. Scott L

7/3/2008 9:18:08 AM MST

For a good overview of why our intuitions about consciousness are often wrong, check out the video "Dan Dennett on our consciousness" at ted.com. And, Dan Dennett's work in-general.

In short, the way consciousness works is to make things "seem" the way they do, which is often far more efficient than actually producing the phenomena. For example, when we hear our thoughts in words, there's no place where a talking part of the brain "speaks" those words to another part of the brain that "hears" them. Rather, it only "seems" that way.


16. cmonex

7/3/2008 10:27:31 AM MST

@ antiantimikes
7/3/2008 7:22:02 AM MST

that experiment with blindsight only proves that seeing itself and being conscious of it can be disconnected. (which I think is obvious anyway.)
this phenomena can of course be interpreted in the way you said, but can also be interpreted as there being only one core for consciousness which lost the connection to the part that tells it you are seeing something.

we cannot know from this simple experiment. just too rudimentary, and many ways to interpret the results.

this is why I like the current study, tells a lot more with more precise equipment used for the results.


17. Jake

7/3/2008 2:08:40 PM MST

To Ryan - Read Descartes again, he thought it was the center of being because the Pineal gland is the only singular structure he could find in the brain and he thought that the center of being could not possibly have a duplicate.

To everyone else - Don't slam publications, write your own!


18. solartronenergy

8/28/2010 1:54:37 AM MST

This may result in some benefit for a few people but it is more likely to bring untold suffering to many millions more.


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