How is it possible that someone like Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords can get shot directly in the head and not only survive, but come back to regain so much of her brain function? Her story is amazing, but just as amazing is how the brain works in order to protect its host.
The connections in the brain form a very complex network that looks much like a large group of spiders had intertwined their webs. Some of the “webs” are more closely woven than others, and these webs form the central connections and “big man on campus” if you will that some researchers call the “rich club.”
A study conducted by Indiana University and University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands have published their study findings in the November 2, 2011 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience highlighting the disproportionate influence of so called “Rich Clubs” within the human brain. They titled their research “Rich-Club Organization of the Human Connectome.”
According to their study, not all regions of the brain are created equal. “We’ve known for a while that the brain has some regions that are ‘rich’ in the sense of being highly connected to many other parts of the brain,” said Olaf Sporns, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in IU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “It now turns out that these regions are not only individually rich, they are forming a ‘rich club.’ They are strongly linked to each other, exchanging information and collaborating.”
The researchers are part of a group that is working intently to map the network of woven threads that comprise the human brain. They are looking at the brain not as individual regions, but as a highly sophisticated integrated system.
Using a form of MRI called diffusion imaging, professor Martijn van den Heuvel from the Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience at University Medical Center Utrecht, worked along with Sporns to examine the brains of 21 healthy men and women and lay a blueprint map of their large-scale network connectivity. A group of 12 strongly interconnected bihemispheric hub regions, comprising the precuneus, superior frontal and superior parietal cortex, as well as the subcortical hippocampus, putamen and thalamus work together to form the brain’s “rich club.”
The majority of these “rich club” areas are engaged in a wide range of complex behavioral and cognitive tasks – not more specialized processing such as vision and motor control. “If the brain network involving the rich club is disrupted or damaged, said Sporns, the negative impact would likely be disproportionate because of its central position in the network and the number of connections it contains.” On the other hand, if damage were to take place outside of the rich club specific impairments would more likely be affected, but have little affect on the overall flow of information throughout the brain.
“You sort of wonder what they’re talking about when they’re communicating with each other,” Sporns said. “All these regions are getting all kinds of highly processed information, from virtually all parts of the brain.” He added that the rich club’s interconnections are “surprising and unexpected.”
“The rich club,” said van den Heuvel, “might be the G8 summit of our brain.” “It’s a group of highly influential regions that keep each other informed and likely collaborate on issues that concern whole brain functioning,” he said. “Figuring out what is discussed at this summit might be an important step in understanding how our brain works.”
The U.S., the National Institutes of Health are currently funding a project involving a consortium of more than 70 scientists, including Sporns, who are working together to create a first map of the human connectome. Similar projects are planned or already under way in Europe and Asia.
“People are coming around to the idea that mapping the connectome is not only technically feasible but also very important to do,” Sporns said. “It’s a fundamental step towards understanding the brain as a networked system. Networks are everywhere these days, found in technology, social media and economics, ecology and systems biology — They’re becoming more and more central in many areas of science. The human brain is perhaps the most challenging example to date.”
I am constantly amazed at how our brain works in order to protect itself, and to make it so that there is not one single connection that works independently, but that cannot be redirected if necessary to accomplish its assignment, like improving your memory.
From the desk of Ron White, memory speaker
Medical Press — Study, A rich club in the human brain: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-11-rich-club-human-brain.html