The results, appearing online this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are an important step forward for efforts to outline what neuroscientists call the functional architecture of the brain. Better understanding of this architecture will aid efforts to treat brain injury and mental disorders.
Although the brain's different specialized regions can be considered as a collection of physical structures, functional architecture instead focuses on metaphorical structures formed by brain processes and interactions among different brain regions. The "foundation" highlighted in the new study is a low-frequency signal created by neuronal activity throughout the brain. This signal doesn't switch off even in dreamless sleep, possibly to help maintain basic structure and facilitate offline housekeeping activities.
"A different, more labile and higher-frequency signal known as the gamma frequency activity has been the focus of much brain research in recent years," says first author Biyu He, a graduate student. "But we found that signal loses its large-scale structure in deep sleep, while the low-frequency signal does not, suggesting that the low-frequency signal may be more fundamental."
"What we've been finding is reorienting the way we think about how the brain works," says senior author Marcus Raichle, M.D., professor of radiology, of neurology and of neurobiology. "We're starting to see the brain as being in the prediction business, with ongoing, organized carrier frequencies within the systems of the brain that keep them prepared for the work they need to do to perform mental tasks."
Neurologists have already spent many years exploring the upper levels of the brain's functional architecture. In these studies, researchers typically ask volunteers to perform specific mental tasks as their brains are scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Such "goal-oriented" tasks might include looking for or studying a visual stimulus, moving an arm or leg, reading a word or listening for a sound. As the subjects perform these tasks, the scans reveal increases in blood flow to different parts of the brain, which researchers take as indications that the brain areas are contributing to the mental task.
In the past decade, though, scientists have realized that deeper structures underlie goal-oriented mental processes. These underlying brain processes continue to occur even when subjects aren't consciously using their brain to do anything, and the energies that the brain puts into them seem to be much greater than those used for goal-oriented tasks.
"The brain consumes a tremendous amount of the body's energy resources—it's only 2 percent of body weight, but it uses about 20 percent of the energy we take in," says Raichle. "When we started to ask where all those resources were being spent, we found that the goal-oriented tasks we had studied previously only accounted for a tiny portion of that energy budget. The rest appears to go into activities and processes that maintain a state of readiness in the brain."
To explore this deeper level of the brain's functional architecture, Raichle and others have been using fMRI to conduct detailed analyses of brain activity in subjects asked to do nothing. However, a nagging question has dogged those and other fMRI studies: Scientists assumed that increased blood flow to a part of the brain indicates that part has contributed to a mental task, but they wanted more direct evidence linking increased blood flow to stepped-up activity in brain cells.
In the new study, He and her colleagues took fMRI scans of five patients with intractable epilepsy at St. Louis Children's Hospital. The scans, during which the subjects did nothing, were taken prior to the temporary installation of grids of electrodes on the surfaces of the patients' brains. The level of detail provided by the grids is essential clinically for pinpointing the source of the seizures for possible surgical removal, a last resort employed only when other treatments failed.
Patients and their guardians gave permission to use the clinical data gathered from these electrodes for scientific research purposes. He's results confirmed that the fMRI data she had gathered earlier reflected changes in brain cell activity exhibited in the gamma frequency signal. But she also noticed the persistent low-frequency signal, which also corresponded to the fMRI data.
"When we looked back in the literature, we found that a similar signal had been the subject of a great deal of animal research using implanted electrodes in the 1960s through the 1980s," she says. "There were suggestions, for example, that when this low-frequency signal, which fluctuates persistently, is in a low trough, the brain may handle mental tasks more effectively."
"What we've shown provides a bridge between the fMRI work many scientists are doing now and the earlier work involving electrical recordings from the brain that emphasized slow activity," says He. "Bringing those two fields together may give us some very interesting insights into the brain’s organization and function."
He BJ, Snyder AZ, Zempel JM, Smyth MD, Raichle ME. Electrophysiological correlates of the brain's intrinsic large-scale functional architecture. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, online edition.
Funding from the National Institutes of Health supported this research.
Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.
Michael C. Purdy | Newswise Science News
New antibody analysis accelerates rational vaccine design
09.08.2018 | Scripps Research Institute
Distrust of power influences choice of medical procedures
01.08.2018 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.
When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...
Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.
Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....
Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.
Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...
Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur
What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...
The quality of materials often depends on the manufacturing process. In casting and welding, for example, the rate at which melts solidify and the resulting microstructure of the alloy is important. With metallic foams as well, it depends on exactly how the foaming process takes place. To understand these processes fully requires fast sensing capability. The fastest 3D tomographic images to date have now been achieved at the BESSY II X-ray source operated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.
Dr. Francisco Garcia-Moreno and his team have designed a turntable that rotates ultra-stably about its axis at a constant rotational speed. This really depends...
08.08.2018 | Event News
27.07.2018 | Event News
25.07.2018 | Event News
14.08.2018 | Information Technology
14.08.2018 | Life Sciences
14.08.2018 | Life Sciences