Synthetic Connectomics: Improving cognition through changing brain connectivity

by Marcus Kaiser

16:00 (40 min) in CT 7.01

Current approaches to treating neural disorders are often unspecific. Drugs are passing the blood-brain barrier and influence activity in the whole brain — not just the regions that are responsible for cognitive deficits of a disease. Similarly, surgery removes large parts of the brain — a third of one hemisphere for certain types of epilepsy — both affecting pathological and healthy tissue. As a result, the beneficial effects of these widespread procedures are often limited: a third of the surgery operations in epilepsy patients do not lead to a significant reduction in seizure frequency. At the same time, side effects are huge in terms of cognitive deficits leading to lower educational achievements or even depression leading to increased rates of suicide. It is targeted approaches that are lacking in this area. The human brain consists of 10 to 10 neurones within, slightly depending on the parcellation scheme, around 100 brain regions. Which parts of the network should be targeted and how can an intervention be localized to these parts?

These questions are challenging but we can now progress towards solutions based on three converging developments in the field: the availability of connectomics information about the network architecture of the human brain, affordable high-performance computing using GPUs and clouds to simulate the effect of treatments on the performance of brain networks, and the development of non-invasive techniques for targeting specific nodes and connections of the network.