Brain Scans Can Help Detect Disorders Like Migraines & Depression –  Study

A brain scan can now be used to detect how brain regions interact and can help in diagnosing brain-related disorders and diseases like migraines, depression, bipolar disorders, and the like.

Individual brain networks remain extremely stable throughout the day while performing various tasks, which is potentially a basis for diagnostic tests for brain disorders and diseases. Many brain disorders like migraines, depression, and bipolar disorder are generally gauged by self-reported symptoms and behaviour and not by any laboratory procedures. According to research, a brain scan called functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI) – which shows how the brain regions interact – can detect fundamental differences in how individual brains are connected. Consequently, the technique potentially could be used to distinguish healthy people from people with brain diseases or disorders and provide insight into variances in cognitive function and personality features. The findings are published in Neuron.

fcMRI measures how the brain is organized

“This is a step toward realizing the clinical promise of functional connectivity MRI,” said senior author Steven Petersen, PhD, the James S. McDonnell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in Neurology, and a professor of neurosurgery, of biomedical engineering, of psychological and brain sciences, and of radiology.

“Before we can develop diagnostic tests based on fcMRI, we need to know what it is actually measuring. We show here that it’s not measuring what you’re thinking, but how your brain is organized. That opens the door to an entirely new field of clinical testing.” Petersen, postdoctoral researcher and first author Caterina Gratton, PhD, and collaborators analysed a set of data gathered by the Midnight Scan Club, a group of Washington University researchers who alternated taking numerous scans in an MRI machine late at night when there is typically less demand for such machines and lower usage fees. Nine different one-hour sessions of fcMRI scans totalling more than ten hours were acquired and examined by the researchers for each of the nine subjects. Each subject either engaged in calm relaxation during the scans or tasks involving vision, memory, reading, or motor abilities.

Brain networks alter in response to mental demands

A dynamic map of the brain’s exterior is produced by functional MRI scans, displaying shifting hotspots of activity over time. Gratton split the brain’s surface into 333 parts and noted regions that changed from active to dormant simultaneously to generate a functional connectivity map. She then created brain network maps for each person, illuminating the relationships between the various brain regions.

She was able to examine how much each person’s brain networks altered daily and in response to various mental demands thanks to the vast volume of data that was accessible about each individual. “Brain networks captured by fcMRI are really about the individual,” Gratton said. “Whether someone’s watching a movie or thinking about her breakfast or moving her hands makes only a small difference. You can still identify that individual by her brain networks with a glance.”

Individual differences are easy to pick up in brain scans

The fcMRI scans are a promising diagnostic tool because of their constancy. Even though the method can detect brain illnesses and diseases, fcMRI-based diagnostic tests have not yet entered medical offices. Confusion over whether the scans reflect basic, constant aspects of the brain or if they alter with each thought has halted progress. The researchers also discovered that the method was strong enough to differentiate apart individuals who looked remarkably comparable.

Each brain that was scanned belonged to a young, healthy scientist or medical professional. “We need more data before we can know what normal variation in the population is at large,” Gratton said. “But the individual differences were really easy to pick up, even in a population that is really very similar. It’s exciting to think that these individual differences may be related to personality, cognitive ability, or psychiatric or neurological disease. Thanks to this work, we know we have a reliable tool to study these possibilities.”

Story Source:
Materials provided by Washington University School of Medicine. Original written by Tamara Bhandari. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Caterina Gratton, Timothy O. Laumann, Ashley N. Nielsen, Deanna J. Greene, Evan M. Gordon, Adrian W. Gilmore, Steven M. Nelson, Rebecca S. Coalson, Abraham Z. Snyder, Bradley L. Schlaggar, Nico U.F. Dosenbach, Steven E. Petersen. Functional Brain Networks Are Dominated by Stable Group and Individual Factors, Not Cognitive or Daily Variation. Neuron, 2018; 98 (2): 439 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.03.035

Page citation:
Washington University School of Medicine. “Brain scans may help diagnose neurological, psychiatric disorders: Study shows that brain networks reliably track individuals over time.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2018. <>.

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