What Brain Research Is Revealing Through Neuroimaging

Neuroscientist Van Wedeen talks about how the brain is more than a random network of connections in and within the various areas of the brain.

See more of Dr. Van Wedeen's videos here.

Why is this different than what people had thought before? Well this is, in a sense, the spaghetti brain. I'm a co-author on this paper. This is written by Patrick Hagmann who was my postdoc. He did this based on the best data that was available in 2006 or thereabouts, and came up with an image that is kind of what people expected. A lot of things are connected to a lot of things. And this is a kind of connectional diagram where you have different locations and the question is, are any two locations connected? This is created by Olaf Sporns who is a collaborator of Patrick's, and the senior author on this PLOS biology paper. And Olaf is doing all kinds of sophisticated mathematical analyses of these patterns. Olaf and Patrick's analysis of this was ingenious. What they said was, "Well we know this thing is a bloody mess, but let's make measurements that make sense in that context." And so they asked, "Are some areas better connected than others?" And they came up with a raft of mathematical metrics to describe how connected different areas are. Now this connectivity measure is an averaging process, and so this averaging process is starting to look a lot more biological than just the raw data. So they don't stop at this data. They then go many steps forward, and say, "Does this break up? Are there chunks within this that do have a meaning?" However, I think the best thing to say about it is I didn't believe that this would be the whole story. I don't think anybody would think that this would be the whole story. I think everybody knew that there were other features of connectivity, of the relationships between areas within areas that this wasn't capturing, and that that would follow at some future iteration.
Posted on BrainLine March 11, 2013.

Produced by Brian King, Vicky Youcha, and Lara Collins, BrainLine.

About the author: Van Wedeen. MD

Van Wedeen, MD is associate professor in Radiology at Harvard Medical School, assistant neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and director of Connectomics at Martinos Center, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital.

Van Wedeen