Wiring the brain

April 13, 2012
Brain. Image provided by Petra Vertes

(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a simple mathematical model of the brain which provides a remarkably complete statistical account of the complex web of connections between various brain regions.  Their findings have been published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The shares a similar pattern of connections with other complex networks such as social networks and the world wide web.  However, until now, it was not known what rules were involved in the formation of the human brain network.

The scientists, from the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute in the Department of Psychiatry, and the National Institute of Mental Health in the US, discovered that the network can be modeled as a result of just two different competing factors:  a distance penalty based on the cost of maintaining long-range connections between various brain regions and a second term modeling the preference for links between regions sharing similar input.

Professor Ed Bullmore, lead author on the paper, explains the dynamic between the parameters they identified: “There is a huge amount of evidence that the wiring of brain networks tends to minimize connection costs. Less costly, short-distance connections are much more numerous than more costly, long-distance connections. So our realistically includes a distance penalty on long-distance connections, which will tend to keep connection costs low.

“However, we found that cost control alone was not enough to reproduce a wide range of network properties. To do that, we had to model an economical trade-off between cost control and another term which favoured new, direct connections between regions that shared similar input or were otherwise already indirectly linked.”

The model not only increases our understanding of healthy brains, but the researchers believe it could also provide unique insight into disorders such as schizophrenia.

Dr. Petra Vertes, one of the authors of the paper, said: “Our model hints at possible mechanisms behind schizophrenia, which will be interesting to investigate further.  We have been able to model the disease by tuning the parameters to allow a greater probability of connection between distant .  This result echoes some prior neuroimaging results which suggest that brain networks in schizophrenia may be associated with an abnormal trade-off between connection costs and other topological properties of .”

Explore further: Neuro-tweets: #hashtagging the brain (w/ video)

Related Stories

Neuro-tweets: #hashtagging the brain (w/ video)

May 9, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- We like to think the human brain is special, something different from other brains and information processing systems, but a Cambridge professor set out to test that assumption – by conducting a live ...

New target for Alzheimer's drugs

February 9, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Biomedical scientists at the University of California, Riverside have identified a new link between a protein called beta-arrestin and short-term memory that could open new doors for the therapeutic treatment ...

Scientists can now 'see' how different parts of our brain communicate

September 21, 2011
A new technique which lets scientists 'see' our brain waves at work could revolutionise our understanding of the human body’s most complex organ and help transform the lives of people suffering from schizophrenia and ...

Recommended for you

Gene immunotherapy protects against multiple sclerosis in mice

September 21, 2017
A potent and long-lasting gene immunotherapy approach prevents and reverses symptoms of multiple sclerosis in mice, according to a study published September 21st in the journal Molecular Therapy. Multiple sclerosis is an ...

Neuron types in brain are defined by gene activity shaping their communication patterns

September 21, 2017
In a major step forward in research, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today publish in Cell a discovery about the molecular-genetic basis of neuronal cell types. Neurons are the basic building blocks that ...

Highly precise wiring in the cerebral cortex

September 21, 2017
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the cerebral cortex of mammals, where, among other things, vision, thoughts or spatial ...

Your neurons register familiar faces, whether you notice them or not

September 21, 2017
When people see an image of a person they recognize—the famous tennis player Roger Federer or actress Halle Berry, for instance—particular cells light up in the brain. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on ...

Faulty cell signaling derails cerebral cortex development, could it lead to autism?

September 20, 2017
As the embryonic brain develops, an incredibly complex cascade of cellular events occur, starting with progenitors - the originating cells that generate neurons and spur proper cortex development. If this cascade malfunctions ...

Strategy might prevent infections in patients with spinal cord injuries

September 19, 2017
New research led by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found a potential therapeutic strategy to prevent infections in patients with spinal cord injuries.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.