Psychiatric and neurological diseases impact “high-traffic hubs” or busy thoroughfares in our brain networks. The way a busy signal crossing, when dysfunctions, causes chaos and impacts all connecting roads to it, in the same way when a “high-traffic hub” network is impacted in our brain, all the connecting networks get impacted. This finding called the “network degeneration hypotheses” was concluded after studying 43 brain disorders by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Centre at San Antanio.
According to this theory, disease-related structural damage frequently recurs in “co-alteration networks,” which are functional networks used in human behaviour.
The brain’s information-processing apparatus is comprised of an intricate network architecture. Is sickness targeting the network architecture of the brain itself? If yes, which diseases are linked to which networks? What does this indicate about the fundamental reasons for brain disorders?
The “network degeneration hypothesis”
By publishing a study of 43 brain disorders, both psychiatric and neurologic, researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Centre at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) built on the remarkable advancements in neuroscience over the previous 30 years. They also strongly supported a theory known as the “network degeneration hypothesis.” This theory proposes that structural damage caused by disease infiltrates the functional networks involved in human behaviour and recapitulates within “co-alteration networks.”
The study evaluated metabolic demand in these networks. It proposed that metabolic stress (also known as “nodal stress”) in high-traffic hubs is a major contributing factor to network-based deterioration.
The study used BrainMap, a database of more than 20,000 published functional and structural neuroimaging trials and was published in the Nature Journal Communications Biology. BrainMap originated in the Research Imaging Institute at UT Health San Antonio, which also serves as its academic home. The National Institutes of Health extended funding for the BrainMap research for an additional four years in April, confirming its impact throughout years 14–17. The award is $2.4 million.
The scope of structural and functional network correspondence is striking
According to Peter T. Fox, MD, professor and director of the Research Imaging Institute, the Communications Biology article was a meta-analysis of tens of thousands of trials taken from BrainMap’s database. When Dr. Fox and his colleagues examined the co-alteration networks associated with diseases to the connection patterns of large-scale functional networks employed in normal activities, they discovered a startling overlap.
“The scope of structural and functional network correspondence is impressive,” Dr. Fox said. “Fourteen of the 20 disease-related co-alteration networks observed spatially conformed to functional networks involved in normal behaviours — such as movement, perception, emotion, language, problem-solving, and memory encoding and recall — to a highly significant degree.”
Neurological diseases have stronger network associations than psychiatric diseases
- Atrophy or hypertrophy of gray matter follows network-based principles.
- Neurological diseases have stronger network associations than psychiatric diseases.
- Some diseases have more diffuse effects across networks than others. Huntington’s disease, for example, affects nine networks and schizophrenia affects seven, whereas major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder affect two each.
“Researchers can take these multi-dimensional results as a roadmap for more specific investigations since biologically meaningful regions of interest can be derived from the component maps shared in our study,” Dr. Fox said.
Continued funding of the BrainMap initiative is crucial. “Part of the upcoming work is working with the Texas Advanced Computing Centre at UT Austin to create a high-performance computing BrainMap Community Portal, a tool to make large-scale, complex, multivariate analyses of this type more readily performed by the research community at large,” Dr. Fox said.
Materials provided by University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Thomas J. Vanasse, Peter T. Fox, P. Mickle Fox, Franco Cauda, Tommaso Costa, Stephen M. Smith, Simon B. Eickhoff, Jack L. Lancaster. Brain pathology recapitulates physiology: A network meta-analysis. Communications Biology, 2021; 4 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s42003-021-01832-9
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “Diseases affect brain’s networks selectively, BrainMap analysis affirms.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 April 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/04/210429095204.htm>.
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