Stanford Scientists: A Fluctuating Brain Network May Make Us Better Thinkers


For years, scientists thought that different areas of the brain work for specific functions. In a recent study, Stanford University's scientists found out that it isn't quite so. Brain communication is not static. The coordination rises and flow like the tide.

The researchers found that connections between the different regions of the brain fluctuates and it affects the way they carry out tasks. When the brain is integrated, people do better on complex tasks. The study also showed that "cognitive performance relates to the dynamic reorganization of brain architecture".

Findings from the study summarized that, "Higher brain function relies upon the ability to flexibly integrate information across specialized communities of brain regions; however, it is unclear how this mechanism manifests over time."

"The human brain traverses between functional states that maximize either segregation into tight-knit communities or integration across otherwise disparate neural regions. Integrated states enable faster and more accurate performance on a cognitive task, and are associated with dilations in pupil diameter, suggesting that ascending neuromodulatory systems may govern the transition between these alternative modes of brain function."

Postdoctoral researcher and the study's head author James "Mac" Shine said, "The brain is stunning in its complexity and I feel like, in a way, we've been able to describe some of its beauty in this story. We've been able to say, 'Here's this underlying structure that you would never have guessed was there, that might help us explain the mystery of why the brain is organized in the way that it is.'"

Scientist used available neural data from the open source Human Connectome and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze the brain in a resting state. They monitored the blood flow in the regions of the brain and described the way the brain's network is organized using the graph theory. They found that even without internal stimulation, fluctuations happen.

To determine how these fluctuations affect brain functions, researchers looked at the fMRI data of individuals who have just completed a challenging memory test. They found that the brain organization is more integrated on individuals that are working on complicated tasks than those who are at rest.

The research team included Prof. Russell Poldrack, and supported by Stanford Bio-X, the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, the National Health and Medical Research Council, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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