For the first time, neuroscientists have systematically identified the white matter "scaffold" of the human brain, the critical communications network that supports brain function.
Their work, published Feb. 11 in the open-source journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, has major implications for understanding brain injury and disease. By detailing the connections that have the greatest influence over all other connections, the researchers offer not only a landmark first map of core white matter pathways, but also show which connections may be most vulnerable to damage.
"We coined the term white matter 'scaffold' because this network defines the information architecture which supports brain function," said senior author John Darrell Van Horn of the USC Institute for Neuroimaging and Informatics and the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at USC.
"While all connections in the brain have their importance, there are particular links which are the major players," Van Horn said.
Using MRI data from a large sample of 110 individuals, lead author Andrei Irimia, also of the USC Institute for Neuroimaging and Informatics, and Van Horn systematically simulated the effects of damaging each white matter pathway.
They found that the most important areas of white and gray matter don't always overlap. Gray matter is the outermost portion of the brain containing the neurons where information is processed and stored. Past research has identified the areas of gray matter that are disproportionately affected by injury.
But the current study shows that the most vulnerable white matter pathways the core "scaffolding" are not necessarily just the connections among the most vulnerable areas of gray matter, helping explain why seemingly small brain injuries may have such devastating effects.
"Sometimes people experience a head injury which seems severe but from which they are able to recover. On the other hand, some p
|Contact: Suzanne Wu|
University of Southern California