Brain networks, interrupted

Our new paper

I recently had the good fortune to be the lead author of an article published in PNAS. I'm proud of how the paper turned out, and anyone who's interested should take a look. If the article is more than you care to tackle, you might try the very nice UIowa press release.

What's it about?

Quick summary: we investigated the consequences of brain damage to locations thought to be important to the function of brain networks – we called them hubs. Hubs in brain networks are notoriously difficult to define, so we tested the consequences of brain damage to two different types of hubs. We found that damage to a certain kind of hub caused widespread impairment in thinking and behavior, while similar damage to other hubs had much more limited effects. We attributed these differences in severity of impairment to the role that the first type of hubs play in the network organization of the brain. With more research, we think that our findings have the potential to help doctors make decisions and predictions about treatment based on brain imaging.

Expanding et al.

Before writing more, I should acknowledge the contributions of all of the other authors at UIowa and Wash U, particularly my co-first author, Jonathan D. Power. Jonathan's first take on where the hubs of brain networks might reside (in a great Neuron article) laid the theoretical foundation for this project. Testing that theory in a lesion population required an intensive collaboration between the lab of Jonathan's doctoral adviser, Steve Petersen, and my post-doctoral adviser, Dan Tranel. Their support was critical to the success of the project.

Lots of other people also deserve credit for their contributions, and they're all appropriately acknowledged in the author list. To pick out a couple of key contributions, Joel Bruss helped out tremendously with the processing and visual inspection of neuroanatomical data, and he made some lovely figures, too. Natalie Denburg and Eric Waldron acted as blind raters for the neuropsychological data, and did an admirable job of not asking what all this was about. More efforts should also be acknowledged, but I'll confine myself to saying that it was a great group to work with and I'm looking forward to continuing our collaboration.

Next up

Having taken the first step down this road, we're eager to ask and potentially answer more questions. Specifically, we're planning to:

  • explore the effects of damage to more and different brain hubs
  • study how damage to brain hubs affects brain activity
  • work with neurosurgery patients before and after their procedures to monitor any brain network changes

I can't wait to get started! If you've got questions or comments, post them below or feel free to contact me.

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