Neurodegenerative diseases target healthy brain’s intrinsic networks

New research suggests that neurodegenerative diseases are neither diffuse nor random but specifically target large-scale functional networks in the human brain. The study, published by Cell Press in the April 16 issue of the journal Neuron, may drive a new generation of network-based strategies for diagnosing and monitoring neurodegenerative diseases.

Brain imaging studies have revealed the architecture of intrinsic functional networks in the human brain. These networks involve multiple functionally related groups of neurons that exhibit spontaneous synchronous baseline activity during task-free conditions. Previous work has established that connectivity within these networks can influence task performance, but it has remained unclear how fluctuations in neural network activity are correlated with brain structure in health and disease.

"Although some studies suggested that Alzheimer’s disease may attack a specific large-scale network, we hypothesized that all neurodegenerative diseases target a distinct signature network," says lead study author Dr. William W. Seeley from the University of California, San Francisco. "If demonstrated as a class-wide phenomenon, this network degeneration framework could have major mechanistic significance, predicting that spatial patterning of disease relates to some structural, metabolic, or physiological aspect of neural network biology."

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