Functional architecture of the brain revealed
An international partnership of brain researchers from 35 research centres - from the US to China - including the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC), has collected resting-state functional MRI data from more than 1400 healthy volunteers and put the information online so that it is available for research.
This is the biggest functional MRI study of the healthy brain ever to be carried out. The article based on this research “Toward discovery science of human brain function” is this week online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The result of the study is an overview of networks of functional connections between different areas of the resting brain. This overview - that will be continually expanded with new data - opens the way for research that could shed new light on the fundamental processes that can sustain health or promote disease in the human brain.
For years, researchers assumed that activity patterns in the brain varied widely from person to person. This study shows, however, that resting state functional networks share an underlying universal architecture.
Although the basic elements of this architecture are the same for everyone, subtle differences can be detected in the involvement of different areas of the brain between males and females and between young old.
‘We had already observed that the connectivity decreases as we grow older,' says Professor Serge Rombouts of the LIBC, one of the authors of the article. 'The sex differences are something we are now seeing for the first time. We can't say anything at all about the implications of this for the functioning of the brain, but it is, of course, very interesting research material.'
The researchers have made the data freely available on a website supported by the American National Institutes of Health Blueprint for Neuroscience Research. This makes it possible to set normative population benchmarks with which patients with psychiatric diseases or at increased risk of psychological disorders or addiction can be compared.
Resting state fMRI scans are functional brainscans of people who are not required to carry out a task while in the scanner, unlike with 'standard' functional MRI scans. The first publications on the existence of resting state networks were in 1995 - initiated by one of the leaders of the present study. Serge Rombouts introduced the resting state fMRI into the Netherlands. He was then working at the Vrije Universiteit. Now, he is director of the LIBC, where he carries out research into connectivity in healthy and sick brains and into the effect of medicines on the brain. The Radboud University in Nijmegen is also one of the 35 centres to take part in the study that was led by the NYU Langone Medical Centre and financed by the American Institute on Drug Abuse.
Dr Serge Rombouts appointed Professor of Methods of Cognitive Neuroimaging (12-01-2010)
Functional networks in healthy and sick brains (24-11-2009)
Quickly seeing medicines work in the brain (30-10-2007)
(24 February 2010/HP)