It might be time to redraw our conceptual maps of the brain. In a new study published in Neuron, researchers at Stanford have found that the integration of different brain regions fluctuates. This suggests a greater fluidity in brain functionality than previously thought.
The researchers also found that brain connectivity varies between people at rest and those engaged in a complex task, and that complexity was greatest in people who did the task the most accurately, and the quickest. Co-author Russell Poldrack, PhD, a professor of psychology, explains in a Stanford press release:
My background is in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience, and stories about how the brain works that don’t relate back to behavior don’t really do much for me... But this research shows these really clear relationships between how the brain is functioning at a network level and how the person’s actually performing on these psychological tasks.
The researchers analyzed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data, which shows which areas of the brain are active according to blood flow, watching study participants at rest and those completing a tricky memory challenge. The imaging data revealed the changes in connectivity.
The findings may help researchers improve their understanding of disorders including Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, but it was driven by simple curiosity — rather than desired outcome, said lead author Mac Shine, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in Poldrack's lab.
I think we were really lucky here, in that we had an exploratory question that bore fruit. Now, we’re in a position where we can ask new questions that will hopefully help us to make progress in understanding the brain.
Previously: How a file storage system can help advance neuroscience, An 18-month portrait of a brain yields new insights into connectivity — and coffee and New award rewards reproducing existing research
Photo by Anders Sandberg