A new study by Northeastern University‘s physicist Dmitri Krioukov and his colleagues explains why the human brain evolved the way it did: to expedite the transfer of information from one brain region to another, enabling us to operate at peak capacity.
The research reveals that the structure of the human brain has an almost ideal network of connections that permit information to travel from one region of the brain to another, enabling us to perform all our tasks from raising a finger to moving mountains. The research also could help in pinpointing the cause of neurological disorders and eventually developing therapies to treat them.
Krioukov studies networks from those related to massive Internet datasets to those defining our brains. For a detailed research, he and his co-authors used sophisticated statistical analyses to construct a map of an idealised brain network—one that has the most optimised network for the transfer of information. This idealised map was then compared to a map of the brain’s real network. The result? Both the maps were remarkably similar.
They were surprised to learn that 89 percent of the connections in the idealised network showed up in the real brain network as well. “That means the brain was evolutionarily designed to be very, very close to what our algorithm shows,” says Krioukov. Navigability- the function that drives the structure of the brain’s idealised network- shows up in the model that Krioukov generated. Most researchers in the field, says Krioukov, build models of the real network first, and only then address function, an approach that does not highlight the most crucial links.
In the brain, the links existing in the idealised network are likely those required for normal brain function, says Krioukov. He points to a maze of lines and tangles coursing through his illustration of the brain and traces a magenta trail that is present in both the ideal and real brains. “So we suspect that they are the primary candidates to look at if some disease develops—to see if they are damaged or broken” Krioukov explains. He speculates that once such links are identified, new drugs or surgical techniques could perhaps be developed to target them and repair, or circumvent, the damage.