Diffusion MRI used to measure brain's local connectome

Putting assumptions to rest in neuroscience, a group of researchers used an MRI approach and found that the connectivity patterns in your brain are unique to you.

The collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, Army Research Labs, University of California Santa Barbara and National Taiwan University, used an MRI approach, also known as diffusion MRI, to measure the “local connectome,” which is the point-by-point connectivity along all white matter pathways in the brain, as opposed to determining whether two brain regions are connected together.

“It's like measuring the integrity of every cable in the internet, one inch at a time. We were able to show that the local connectome is highly unique to an individual,” said Timothy D. Verstynen PhD. “So unique, in fact, that it can be used as a personal identifier (albeit an expensive one to collect). Out of over 17,000 comparisons of brain scans that we ran on the data, we never made an error when asked to guess whether two local connectomes come from the same person or not. So we started to refer to the local connectome as a ‘fingerprint.’”

Data published in PLOS Computational Biology, shows that the entire local connectome changes at an average of 13 percent every 100 days and that genetically identical individuals only share about 12 percent similarity in their structural connections overall.

Verstynen says that this information provides a powerful new tool, especially when looking at how certain factors such as disease, the environment or experiences may impact the structural connections in the brain.

“For example, since your experiences sculpt the local connectome, do people who share a lot of the same experiences (for example, married couples, members of the same platoon in the military) start to have more similar structural connections? It also opens the door for the local connectome to be used as a clinical marker of disease. For example, do individuals with the same disease show the same changes in the same parts of the local connectome?” said Dr. Verstynen