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Stanford University School of Medicine

An 18-month portrait of a brain yields new insights into connectivity — and coffee

Coffee changes the brain's activity. Wait, wait, don't stop reading, I know you know that. But here's the cool thing: For 18 months, Stanford psychologist Russell Poldrack, PhD, scanned his brain twice a week. On the days he skipped coffee, the MRI images were quite different, showing, for the first time, how caffeine changes brain connectivity.

A Stanford news release explains:

The connection between the somatosensory motor network and the systems responsible for higher vision grew significantly tighter without caffeine.

"That was totally unexpected, but it shows that being caffeinated radically changes the connectivity of your brain," Poldrack said. "We don't really know if it's better or worse, but it's interesting that these are relatively low-level areas. It may well be that I'm more fatigued on those days, and that drives the brain into this state that's focused on integrating those basic processes more."

Poldrack's experiment could generate hundreds, or even thousands, of similar insights, once researchers parse through the data, which is open to all. The RNA from his white blood cells was also sequenced once a week to coordinate gene expression with brain function.

Poldrack's brain remained fairly constant and he admits he's an even-keeled guy, generally content and rarely sad. But he hopes the approach could reveal differences between healthy brains, like his, and those that suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Previously: Hidden memories: A bit of coaching allows subjects to cloack memories from fMRI detector, Image of the Week: Art inspired by MRI brain scans and From phrenology to neuroimaging: New finding bolsters theory about how brain operates

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