Washington University researchers have created a computer model to help scientists learn how the brain’s anatomical structure contributes to the creation and maintenance of resting state networks. They hope that the model will help them understand why certain portions of the brain work together when a person daydreams or is mentally idle, helping doctors better diagnose and treat brain injuries.
“We can give our model lesions like those we see in stroke or brain cancer, disabling groups of virtual cells to see how brain function is affected,” said Professor Maurizio Corbetta. “We can also test ways to push the patterns of activity back to normal.”
Based on data from brain scans, researchers assembled 66 cognitive units in each hemisphere, and interconnected them in anatomical patterns similar to the connections present in the brain. Individual units went through the signaling process at random low frequencies that had previously been observed in brain cells in culture and in recordings of resting brain activity. The researchers let the model run, slowly changing the coupling, or the strength of the connections between units. At a specific coupling value, the interconnections between units sending impulses soon began to create coordinated patterns of activity.
“Even though we started the cognitive units with random low activity levels, the connections allowed the units to synchronize,” said Professor Gustavo Deco of Universitat Pompeu Fabra. “The spatial pattern of synchronization that we eventually observed approximates very well—about 70 percent—to the patterns we see in scans of resting human brains.”