Researchers develop way to 'fingerprint' the brain

November 15, 2016
A research team led by Carnegie Mellon University used diffusion MRI to measure the local connectome of 699 brains from five data sets. The local connectome is the point-by-point connections along all of the white matter pathways in the brain, as opposed to the connections between brain regions. To create a fingerprint, they took the data from the diffusion MRI and reconstructed it to calculate the distribution of water diffusion along the cerebral white matter's fibers. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Using a new imaging technique, researchers have confirmed what scientists have always thought to be true: the structural connections in the brain are unique to each individual person.

The Carnegie Mellon University-led team used diffusion MRI to map the 's structural connections and found each person's connections are so unique they could identify a person based on this brain "fingerprint" with nearly perfect accuracy. Published in PLOS Computational Biology, the results also show the brain's that distinctiveness changes over time, which could help researchers determine how factors such as disease, the environment and different experiences impact the brain.

The new, non-invasive diffusion MRI approach captures the brain's connections at a much closer level than ever before. For example, conventional approaches obtain a single estimate of the integrity of a single structural connection, or a white matter fiber. The new technique measures the integrity along each segment of the brain's biological wires, making it much more sensitive to unique patterns.

"The most exciting part is that we can apply this new method to existing data and reveal new information that is already sitting there unexplored. The higher specificity allows us to reliably study how genetic and environmental factors shape the human brain over time, thereby opening a gate to understand how the human brain functions or dysfunctions," said Fang-Cheng (Frank) Yeh, the study's first author and assistant professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh. Yeh completed the research while at CMU as a postdoctoral fellow in psychology.

For the study, the researchers used diffusion MRI to measure the local connectome of 699 brains from five data sets. The local connectome is the point-by-point connections along all of the white matter pathways in the brain, as opposed to the connections between brain regions. To create a fingerprint, they took the data from the diffusion MRI and reconstructed it to calculate the distribution of water diffusion along the cerebral 's fibers.

The measurements revealed that the local connectome is highly unique to an individual and can be used as a personal marker for human identity. To test the uniqueness, the team ran more than 17,000 identification tests. With nearly 100 percent accuracy, they were able to tell whether two local connectomes, or brain "fingerprints," came from the same person or not.

Additionally, they discovered that identical twins only share about 12 percent of structural connectivity patterns and the brain's unique local connectome is sculpted over time, changing at an average rate of 13 percent every 100 days.

"This confirms something that we've always assumed in neuroscience—that connectivity patterns in your brain are unique to you," said CMU's Timothy Verstynen, assistant professor of psychology. "This means that many of your life experiences are somehow reflected in the connectivity of your brain. Thus we can start to look at how shared experiences, for example poverty or people who have the same patholoigical disease, are reflected in your brain connections, opening the door for potential new medical biomarkers for certain health concerns."

In addition to Yeh and Verstynen, the research team included CMU's Aarti Singh and Barnabas Poczos, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Jean M. Vettel, the University of California, Santa Barbara's Scott T. Grafton, the University of Pittsburgh's Kirk I. Erickson and Wen-Yih I. Tseng of the National Taiwan University. The Army Research Laboratory funded this research.

Developing a way to fingerprint the brain is one of the many brain research breakthroughs to happen at Carnegie Mellon. CMU has created some of the first cognitive tutors, helped to develop the Jeopardy-winning Watson, founded a groundbreaking doctoral program in neural computation, and is the birthplace of artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. Building on its strengths in biology, computer science, psychology, statistics and engineering, CMU launched BrainHub, an initiative that focuses on how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.

Explore further: Brain 'reads' sentences the same in English and Portuguese

More information: PLOS Computational Biology, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005203

Related Stories

Brain 'reads' sentences the same in English and Portuguese

November 3, 2016
An international research team led by Carnegie Mellon University has found that when the brain "reads" or decodes a sentence in English or Portuguese, its neural activation patterns are the same.

MRI shows brain disruption in children with PTSD

October 25, 2016
Children with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience disruptions in the structure of the neural networks inside their brains, according to a study appearing online in the journal Radiology. The findings could help ...

Scientists visualize critical part of basal ganglia pathways

August 17, 2015
Certain diseases, like Parkinson's and Huntingdon's disease, are associated with damage to the pathways between the brain's basal ganglia regions. The basal ganglia sits at the base of the brain and is responsible for, among ...

New discovery in connectome dynamics

July 1, 2016
From diffusion tensor imaging data of the Human Connectome Project, it is possible today to construct hundreds of graphs mapping the cerebral connections of a human subject. Each of these graphs has 1015 vertices and several ...

Schizophrenic brains take indirect paths

November 24, 2014
Analysis of the structural connectivity in the brains of 16 schizophrenia patients reveals several zones affected by the disease and their reduced network connectivity.

Neuroscientists identify new way several brain areas communicate

March 3, 2015
Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientists have identified a new pathway by which several brain areas communicate within the brain's striatum.

Recommended for you

'Residual echo' of ancient humans in scans may hold clues to mental disorders

July 26, 2017
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have produced the first direct evidence that parts of our brains implicated in mental disorders may be shaped by a "residual echo" from our ancient past. The more ...

Cellular roots of anxiety identified

July 26, 2017
From students stressing over exams to workers facing possible layoffs, worrying about the future is a normal and universal experience. But when people's anticipation of bad things to come starts interfering with daily life, ...

Laser used to reawaken lost memories in mice with Alzheimer's disease

July 26, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Columbia University has found that applying a laser to the part of a mouse brain used for memory storage caused the mice to recall memories lost due to a mouse version of Alzheimer's ...

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.

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.

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.

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.