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A functional network perspective on normal and pathological cognition

The classic approach to human brain mapping seeks to relate specific cognitive demands to dedicated functional regions of the human brain and their individual connection pathways. I will present data from a series of studies demonstrating that this approach has generated highly misleading theoretical perspectives on human brain function. Specifically, I will argue that the wide range of cognitive-control demands that have been mapped onto regions within the human frontal lobes are proxies for a far more limited set of cognitive classes. Each class has a corresponding functional network and cognitive processes are an emergent property of dynamic interactions that occur throughout them, that is, as opposed to within any individual region or connection. I will then discuss how a more holistic analysis of network functional dynamics can provide sensitive markers of neural decline, which precede the manifestation of overt behavioural symptoms. This will be with reference to retired sport players who have suffered repetitive traumatic brain injuries during their professional careers and pre-manifest Huntington’s disease patients.