New brain mapping technique could shed light on mental health

A new and relatively simple method for mapping the wiring of the brain could help increase understanding of mental health disorders, says the director of research at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT). 

New brain mapping technique could shed light on mental health
04 January 2018

New brain mapping technique could shed light on mental health

A new and relatively simple method for mapping the wiring of the brain could help increase understanding of mental health disorders, says the director of research at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT). 

In recent years, there has been a concerted effort among scientists to map the connections in the brain – the so-called ‘connectome’ – and to understand how this relates to human behaviours, such as intelligence and mental health disorders.

Research led by Cambridge and US scientists has now shown that it is possible to build up a map of the connectome by analysing conventional brain scans taken using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.

Professor Ed Bullmore, Director of Research & Development at CPFT and Head of Psychiatry at Cambridge, said: “Our new mapping technique could help us understand how the symptoms of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression or even schizophrenia arise from differences in connectivity within the brain. This could also take us closer to being able to get an idea of intelligence from brain scans, rather than having to rely on IQ tests."

The research, published in the journal Neuron, was conducted by an international team led by scientists at CPFT, the University of Cambridge and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA. The authors include Professor Ed Bullmore, Professor Peter Jones and Professor Ian Goodyer from CPFT.

The team compared the brains of 296 typically-developing adolescent volunteers. Their results were then validated in a cohort of a further 124 volunteers. The team used a conventional 3T MRI scanner, where 3T represents the strength of the magnetic field; however, Cambridge has recently installed a much more powerful Siemens 7T Terra MRI scanner, which should allow this technique to give an even more precise mapping of the human brain.

A typical MRI scan will provide a single image of the brain, from which it is possible to calculate multiple structural features of the brain. This means that every region of the brain can be described using as many as ten different characteristics. The researchers showed that if two regions have similar profiles, then they are described as having ‘morphometric similarity’ and it can be assumed that they are a connected network. They verified this assumption using publically-available MRI data on a cohort of 31 juvenile rhesus macaque monkeys to compare to ‘gold-standard’ connectivity estimates in that species.

Using these morphometric similarity networks (MSNs), the researchers were able to build up a map showing how well connected the ‘hubs’ – the major connection points between different regions of the brain network – were. They found a link between the connectivity in the MSNs in brain regions linked to higher order functions – such as problem solving and language – and intelligence.

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health.

ENDS

Notes to editors

 

  1. About Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
    Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) is a health and social care organisation, providing integrated community, mental health and learning disability services, across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and children’s community services in Peterborough. We support around 100,000 people each year and employ more than 3,900 staff. Our largest bases are at the Cavell Centre, Peterborough, and Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge, but our staff are based in over 90 locations. We are a University of Cambridge Teaching Trust and member of Cambridge University Health Partners, working together with the University of Cambridge Clinical School. More information about research at CPFT is here.
  2. Morphometric Similarity Networks Detect Microscale Cortical Organisation and Predict Inter-Individual Cognitive Variation. Neuron; 21 Dec 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.11.039

 

 

Contact details
For more information please contact:
Adrian Ient
Communications Manager
E adrian.ient@cpft.nhs.uk 
T 01223 219470

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
F 01480 398501

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