Researchers use new map of human brain to study dementia

December 13, 2013 by James Hataway
This figure shows 15 resting state brain networks in the DICCCOL system. Color-coded brain landmarks on the cerebral cortex connect to perform particular functional activities, such as language or sight.

Researchers at the University of Georgia are developing new maps of the human brain that promise to help in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Their project, supported in part by a five-year $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, compares the function of normal brains with those of patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, a condition characterized by declined memory or thinking ability.

"Not surprisingly, we have observed that healthy brains function in a much more consistent, predictable way than those with disease," said Tianming Liu, lead researcher for the project and associate professor of computer science in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "But each MCI patient might have a different pattern of brain network disruption, so if we determine how all these networks are related to a person's health, we can create new diagnostics and open new avenues for therapies."

Liu and his colleagues will work in partnership with the Duke University Medical Center and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to obtain brain scans of patients diagnosed with MCI. Comparing these scans to those of healthy brains will give clues as to how much of the diseased brain is disrupted and how different levels of disruption affect cognition.

"We know that 15 to 20 percent of patients with will go on to develop Alzheimer's disease," said Liu, who is head of the Cortical Architecture Imaging and Discovery Laboratory. "We think that we can help identify changes in brain function that are the precursors to more advanced forms of dementia."

He is one of several UGA researchers currently investigating the functional brain changes that lead to dementia. Psychology professor and Bio-Imaging Research Center director Stephen Miller is leading a team that uses fMRI brain scans to learn how activity in the brain's lateral temporal lobes relates to memory and cognition, an approach he hopes will result in better diagnostic tools.

Liu's approach is built upon years of painstaking research that identified more than 350 unique landmarks throughout the cerebral cortex using diffusion tensor imaging, an advanced neuroimaging technique. Each of these landmarks represents a physical connection in the brain related to memory, vision, language, arousal regulation and other fundamental operations.

The connections, which Liu has named "dense individualized and common connectivity-based cortical landmarks," or DICCCOL, are present in every normal brain, so they can be used as a basis of comparison for those with damaged brain tissue or altered .

Liu is currently working on a second generation DICCCOL brain map that will expand the number of unique brain networks from a few hundred to more than 1,000.

"As we develop a higher-resolution picture of brain, we have a better chance of pinpointing very subtle changes in the brain's function that lead to disease," Liu said.

Liu has made the source code for the DICCCOL system available for free to other researchers in search of collaboration online, and he hopes they will find the system useful in the investigation of other -related disorders.

"We are already working on projects related to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder," he said. "There are a lot of potential applications for the DICCCOL system."

Explore further: GPS for the brain: Researchers develop new brain map

More information: Those interested in learning more about Liu's research or to download the DICCCOL source code may do so at caid.cs.uga.edu.

Related Stories

GPS for the brain: Researchers develop new brain map

May 22, 2012
University of Georgia researchers have developed a map of the human brain that shows great promise as a new guide to the inner workings of the body's most complex and critical organ.

Improved dementia diagnosis possible, new study shows

November 26, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Nearly 36 million people worldwide are estimated to currently have dementia. That number is expected to almost double every 20 years. Researchers are diligently working to find better, more accurate methods ...

Enzyme BACE1 may be important in predicting onset of Alzheimer disease

December 12, 2013
The critical enzyme beta-secretase1 (BACE1) is known to be elevated in brains with sporadic Alzheimer disease (AD). Scientists have now found increased levels of BACE1 in brains with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), suggesting ...

Widespread brain atrophy detected in Parkinson's disease with newly developed structural pattern

December 12, 2011
Atrophy in the hippocampus, the region of the brain known for memory formation and storage, is evident in Parkinson's disease (PD) patients with cognitive impairment, including early decline known as mild cognitive impairment ...

Brain mapping study to improve outcomes for preterm infants

October 22, 2013
A University of Queensland study into how premature babies' brains develop will lead to the earlier diagnosis of brain impairment in preterm children.

What goes wrong in a brain affected by Alzheimer's disease?

August 22, 2013
The ability of different regions of the brain to communicate gradually breaks down with aging and in Alzheimer's disease, but there are key differences between these two processes. Some of these differences are reported in ...

Recommended for you

Cognitive cross-training enhances learning, study finds

July 25, 2017
Just as athletes cross-train to improve physical skills, those wanting to enhance cognitive skills can benefit from multiple ways of exercising the brain, according to a comprehensive new study from University of Illinois ...

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Lutein may counter cognitive aging, study finds

July 25, 2017
Spinach and kale are favorites of those looking to stay physically fit, but they also could keep consumers cognitively fit, according to a new study from University of Illinois researchers.

Zebrafish study reveals clues to healing spinal cord injuries

July 25, 2017
Fresh insights into how zebrafish repair their nerve connections could hold clues to new therapies for people with spinal cord injuries.

Brain stimulation may improve cognitive performance in people with schizophrenia

July 24, 2017
Brain stimulation could be used to treat cognitive deficits frequently associated with schizophrenia, according to a new study from King's College London.

New map may lead to drug development for complex brain disorders, researcher says

July 24, 2017
Just as parents are not the root of all their children's problems, a single gene mutation can't be blamed for complex brain disorders like autism, according to a Keck School of Medicine of USC neuroscientist.

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.