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Estimating a number of brain networks (or states) that are common to all subjects, together with a specific state time course for each subject indicating when each state is active. Figure from Diego Vidaurre et al. PNAS doi:10.1073/pnas.1705120114 ©2017 by National Academy of Sciences

WIN researchers Diego Vidaurre, Stephen Smith and Mark Woolrich address the important question of the temporal organisation of large-scale brain networks in a new study published in PNAS.

The brain needs to activate multiple networks in a temporally coordinated manner in order to perform cognitive tasks. In this work, the authors measured how different brain networks switch on and off over time in spontaneous activity. They investigated this using resting-state functional MRI scans from 820 participants of the Human Connectome Project who were 22 to 35 years old.

The study found that brain networks are hierarchically organised into two major classes, one related to sensorimotor processing and the other to higher-order cognition. Intriguingly, we found that there was a tendency for the brain to either switch between networks associated with sensorimotor processing, or to switch between networks associated with more complex cognition, with only occasional switches between the two types”, Professor Woolrich explains. 

The pattern of switching was also found to be a heritable trait and was related to the subjects’ psychology; with subjects that spend more time spontaneously activating cognitive networks exhibiting more positive psychological traits. This perspective, and the methods used to provide it, paves the way for future investigations into the cognitive role of the temporal dependency of brain network states.

Read more about the study and Diego Vidaurre's research.