The researchers compare their brain imaging analysis to models used for understanding social networks. To get a sense of how the brain works, Irimia and Van Horn did not focus only on the most prominent gray matter nodes which are akin to the individuals within a social network. Nor did they merely look at how connected those nodes are.
Rather, they also examined the strength of these white matter connections, i.e. which connections seemed to be particularly sensitive or to cause the greatest repercussions across the network when removed. Those connections which created the greatest changes form the network "scaffold."
"Just as when you remove the internet connection to your computer you won't get your email anymore, there are white matter pathways which result in large scale communication failures in the brain when damaged," Van Horn said.
When white matter pathways are damaged, brain areas served by those connections may wither or have their functions taken over by other brain regions, the researchers explain. Irimia and Van Horn's research on core white matter connections is part of a worldwide scientific effort to map the 100 billion neurons and 1,000 trillion connections in the living human brain, led by the Human Connectome Project and the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at USC.
Irimia notes that, "these new findings on the brain's network scaffold help inform clinicians about the neurological impacts of brain diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, as well as major brain injury. Sports organizations, the military and the US government have considerabl
|Contact: Suzanne Wu|
University of Southern California