Medical imaging | Nature Communications
A vast group of Canadian researchers discover "traffic jams" in the brain
Sherbrooke, le 6 décembre 2017 – When the world's best minds on brain imaging get together, it can lead to extraordinary scientific discoveries. A group of 20 international research teams just demonstrated that the brain has the equivalent of "traffic jams." This significant discovery was published in Nature Communications on November 7, 2017.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Arriving at this observation means being able to map the brain's circuitry and its connections, which is also referred to as the structural connectome. There is only one noninvasive technique for this: diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI). Barely 20 years old, this mapping technology used in hospitals nevertheless generates huge computational challenges (mathematical models and computer tools). These researchers used this technology to bring to light an – until now - unknown complexity of the brain. This brings forward new problems that will require new solutions. Moreover, brain-mapping technology must take into account this new knowledge about the brain.
A Challenge to Share Knowledge
In order to share cutting-edge breakthroughs in the field of brain mapping, these computer specialists organized an international mapping competition, as part of the annual meeting of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM). The competition took place in Toronto in June 2015.
The teams used a highly realistic brain model for the first time to test their mapping algorithm. As a result of the challenge, more than a hundred cutting-edge brain-mapping techniques were shared. Comparing the data, however, revealed the techniques all shared a major shortcoming: they created a large number of false connections. In other words, nonexistent brain pathways... but why?
“We discovered that the brain had certain "traffic jams," explained Maxime Descoteaux, research professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Université de Sherbrooke . He is also the last author and corresponding author for the article. Just like when a vehicle comes to a major traffic circle or a bridge, there are a number of different ways that can be taken depending on the situation. That makes it very easy for a driver to get lost. The complex configurations of the connections in our brains can also easily fool the mapping techniques that pass through these traffic jams.”
The Importance of Brain Mapping
This is an extremely important discovery in understanding brain circuitry and how information is exchanged in the human brain. This breakthrough also underscores the need for an algorithm revolution in mapping the human connectome, which should take this enhanced complexity into account.
"Mapping the connectome—a bit like having a Google Map of the brain—will not only lead to major discoveries about the healthy brain, pointed out Descoteaux, it will yield spectacular progress in diagnosing brain tumors, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, concussions, and autism."
New Research Chair in Neuroinformatics
This newly established research chair is led by research Professor Maxime Descoteaux from the Department of Computer Science in the Faculty of Science and the Centre de recherche du CHUS. Its researchers tackle every step of the imaging pipeline, from fast image acquisition of diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) in clinically-feasible time, up to connectivity mapping of healthy and pathological brains. To achieve the goals of the chair, Pr Descoteaux can count on a multidisciplinary team of computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists, neurologists, and medical residents. The interdisciplinary aspect of research, a key component to the future of neuroinformatics, will provide means to respond to clinical needs as well as biomedical research.
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Judith Lavallée, Media-Relations Officer
Communications Department | Université de Sherbrooke
819 821-8000, extension 65472 | medias@USherbrooke.ca