Wayne State researchers suggest that brain networks at ‘rest’ are in readiness for ‘action’

March 10, 2017

Just as a sprinter’s body and muscles are ready for action as they wait for the starting gun to fire, brain networks at rest appear to be waiting in a constant state of readiness to execute even the simplest of behaviors.

This evidence comes from a new paper published this week in the journal PLoS One reporting on a study led by professors Vaibhav Diwadkar, Ph.D., of Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, and Steven Bressler, Ph.D., interim director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences.

In the study, “Potentiation of motor sub-networks for motor control but not working memory: Interaction of dACC and SMA revealed by resting-state directed functional connectivity,” the researchers used a simple experimental task, having each participant perform a simple motor control behavior (tapping their forefinger to a visual cue) that alternated between behavior and rest. Brain activity was acquired using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a technique that allows collection of dynamic signals from within the brain when the subject is performing a task as well as when he or she is at rest.

Using relatively complex modeling of fMRI signals, the team studied brain network interactions between two important brain regions: the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, or dACC, used for control, and the supplementary motor area, or SMA, used for motor movements. In their previous studies, the team highlighted the importance of directional network interactions from the dACC to the SMA during simple motor behavior. In the PLoS One paper, they showed a compelling and opposite effect: During the rest periods that alternated between the motor behavior task, network interactions from the SMA to the dACC were now increased.

Dr. Diwadkar, who co-directs the Brain Imaging Research Division in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences said, “These results suggest that directional interactions from the SMA to the dACC during the rest period may in fact potentiate task-related interactions in the opposite direction.” He further noted that the studies confirm what has been long suggested and independently demonstrated: That the brain’s networks are always in a state of potentiation for action, precisely because it is impossible to predict what they will be required to do at any given time. Therefore, it is unlikely that the brain can ever be at true rest.

This paper is one of the few attempts to systematically investigate directional interactions between brain networks in the resting state, and shows how this state might potentiate the opposite direction of the same network task-related processing.

“Our findings are compelling because brain networks are in patterns of incessantly complex directional interactions,” Dr. Diwadkar said. “Directionality is difficult to measure, and our complex analyses show that it is possible to estimate this from fMRI data.”

Dr. Diwadkar said the team’s findings reveal aspects of normative brain function and may provide new directions for characterizing disordered network interactions in neuropsychiatric syndromes. His team will investigate these questions in obsessive-compulsive disorder with David Rosenberg, M.D., the Miriam L. Hamburger Endowed Chair of Child Psychiatry and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State University; and in schizophrenia with Jeffrey Stanley, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences. Dr. Diwadkar and Dr. Bressler are continuing to collaborate on several directions of research focusing on brain network function and dysfunction.

Dr. Diwadkar’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (grant numbers: MH068680, MH111177 and MH059299).

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