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Journal: NeuroImage


Preterm infants are at increased risk of alterations in brain structure and connectivity, and subsequent neurocognitive impairment. Breast milk may be more advantageous than formula feed for promoting brain development in infants born at term, but uncertainties remain about its effect on preterm brain development and the optimal nutritional regimen for preterm infants. We test the hypothesis that breast milk exposure is associated with improved markers of brain development and connectivity in preterm infants at term equivalent age. We collected information about neonatal breast milk exposure and brain MRI at term equivalent age from 47 preterm infants (mean postmenstrual age [PMA] 29.43 weeks, range 23.28-33.0). Network-Based Statistics (NBS), Tract-based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) and volumetric analysis were used to investigate the effect of breast milk exposure on white matter water diffusion parameters, tissue volumes, and the structural connectome. Twenty-seven infants received exclusive breast milk feeds for ≥75% of days of in-patient care and this was associated with higher connectivity in the fractional anisotropy (FA)-weighted connectome compared with the group who had < 75% of days receiving exclusive breast milk feeds (NBS, p = 0.04). Within the TBSS white matter skeleton, the group that received ≥75% exclusive breast milk days exhibited higher FA within the corpus callosum, cingulum cingulate gyri, centrum semiovale, corticospinal tracts, arcuate fasciculi and posterior limbs of the internal capsule compared with the low exposure group after adjustment for PMA at birth, PMA at image acquisition, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and chorioamnionitis (p < 0.05). The effect on structural connectivity and tract water diffusion parameters was greater with ≥90% exposure, suggesting a dose effect. There were no significant groupwise differences in brain volumes. Breast milk feeding in the weeks after preterm birth is associated with improved structural connectivity of developing networks and greater FA in major white matter fasciculi.


Hippocampal volume increase in response to aerobic exercise has been consistently observed in animal models. However, the evidence from human studies is equivocal. We undertook a systematic review to identify all controlled trials examining the effect of aerobic exercise on the hippocampal volumes in humans, and applied meta-analytic techniques to determine if aerobic exercise resulted in volumetric increases. We also sought to establish how volume changes differed in relation to unilateral measures of left/right hippocampal volume, and across the lifespan. A systematic search identified 4398 articles, of which 14 were eligible for inclusion in the primary analysis. A random-effects meta-analysis showed no significant effect of aerobic exercise on total hippocampal volume across the 737 participants. However, aerobic exercise had significant positive effects on left hippocampal volume in comparison to control conditions. Post-hoc analyses indicated effects were driven through exercise preventing the volumetric decreases which occur over time. These results provide meta-analytic evidence for exercise-induced volumetric retention in the left hippocampus. Aerobic exercise interventions may be useful for preventing age-related hippocampal deterioration and maintaining neuronal health.

Concepts: Medical statistics, Volume, Systematic review, Thermodynamics, Hippocampus, Integral, Strength training, Meta-analysis


We studied a group of verbal memory specialists to determine whether intensive oral text memory is associated with structural features of hippocampal and lateral-temporal regions implicated in language processing. Professional Vedic Sanskrit Pandits in India train from childhood for around 10 years in an ancient, formalized tradition of oral Sanskrit text memorization and recitation, mastering the exact pronunciation and invariant content of multiple 40,000-100,000 word oral texts. We conducted structural analysis of grey matter density, cortical thickness, local gyrification, and white matter structure, relative to matched controls. We found massive gray matter density and cortical thickness increases in Pandit brains in language, memory and visual systems, including i) bilateral lateral temporal cortices and ii) the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus, regions associated with long and short-term memory. Differences in hippocampal morphometry matched those previously documented for expert spatial navigators and individuals with good verbal working memory. The findings provide unique insight into the brain organization implementing formalized oral knowledge systems.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Brodmann area 24, Vedas


Diffusion Kurtosis Imaging (DKI) is a diffusion-weighted technique which overcomes limitations of the commonly used diffusion tensor imaging approach. This technique models non-Gaussian behaviour of water diffusion by the diffusion kurtosis tensor (KT), which can be used to provide indices of tissue heterogeneity and a better characterisation of the spatial architecture of tissue microstructure. In this study, the geometry of the KT is elucidated using synthetic data generated from multi-compartmental models, where diffusion heterogeneity between intra and extra-cellular media are taken into account, as well as the sensitivity of the results to each model parameter and to synthetic noise. Furthermore, based on the assumption that maxima of the KT are distributed perpendicularly to the direction of well aligned fibres, a novel algorithm for estimating fibre direction directly from the KT is proposed and compared to the fibre directions extracted from DKI based orientation distribution function (ODF) estimates previously proposed in the literature. Synthetic data results showed that, for fibres crossing at high intersection angles, direction estimates extracted directly from the KT have smaller errors than the DKI based ODF estimation approaches (DKI-ODF). Nevertheless, the proposed method showed smaller angular resolution and lower stability to changes of the simulation parameters. On real data, tractography performed on these KT fibre estimates suggests a higher sensitivity than the DKI based ODF in resolving lateral corpus callosum fibres reaching the pre-central cortex when diffusion acquisition is performed with five b-values. Using faster acquisition schemes, KT based tractography did not show improved performance over the DKI-ODF procedures. Nevertheless, it is shown that direct KT fibres estimates are more adequate for computing a generalized version of radial kurtosis maps.

Concepts: Magnetic resonance imaging, Corpus callosum, Fiber, Parameter, Imaging, Tensors, Synthetic fiber, Fibers


Quantitative measurements of change in β-amyloid load from Positron Emission Tomography (PET) images play a critical role in clinical trials and longitudinal observational studies of Alzheimer’s disease. These measurements are strongly affected by methodological differences between implementations, including choice of reference region and use of partial volume correction, but there is a lack of consensus for an optimal method. Previous works have examined some relevant variables under varying criteria, but interactions between them prevent choosing a method via combined meta-analysis. In this work, we present a thorough comparison of methods to measure change in β-amyloid over time using Pittsburgh Compound B (PiB) PET imaging.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Scientific method, Clinical trial, Measurement, Positron emission tomography, Positron, Fluorine-18, Pittsburgh compound B


Fear protects organisms by increasing vigilance and preparedness, and by coordinating survival responses during life-threatening encounters. The fear circuit must thus operate on multiple timescales ranging from preparatory sustained alertness to acute fight-or-flight responses. Here we studied the brain basis of sustained and acute fear using naturalistic functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) enabling analysis of different time-scales of fear responses. Subjects (N = 37) watched feature-length horror movies while their hemodynamic brain activity was measured with fMRI. Time-variable intersubject correlation (ISC) was used to quantify the reliability of brain activity across participants, and seed-based phase synchronization was used for characterizing dynamic connectivity. Subjective ratings of fear were used to assess how synchronization and functional connectivity varied with emotional intensity. These data suggest that acute and sustained fear are supported by distinct neural pathways, with sustained fear amplifying mainly sensory responses, and acute fear increasing activity in brainstem, thalamus, amygdala and cingulate cortices. Sustained fear increased ISC in regions associated with acute fear, and also amplified functional connectivity within this network. The results were replicated in an independent experiment with a different subject sample and stimulus movie. The functional interplay between cortical networks involved in sustained anticipation of, and acute response to, threat involves a complex and dynamic interaction that depends on the proximity of threat, and the need to employ threat appraisals and vigilance for decision making and response selection.


Past historical events and experimental research have shown complying with the orders from an authority has a strong impact on people’s behaviour. However, the mechanisms underlying how obeying orders influences moral behaviours remain largely unknown. Here, we test the hypothesis that when male and female humans inflict a painful stimulation to another individual, their empathic response is reduced when this action complied with the order of an experimenter (coerced condition) in comparison with being free to decide to inflict that pain (free condition). We observed that even if participants knew that the shock intensity delivered to the ‘victim’ was exactly the same during coerced and free conditions, they rated the shocks as less painful in the coerced condition. MRI results further indicated that obeying orders reduced activity associated with witnessing the shocks to the victim in the ACC, insula/IFG, TPJ, MTG and dorsal striatum (including the caudate and the putamen) as well as neural signatures of vicarious pain in comparison with being free to decide. We also observed that participants felt less responsible and showed reduced activity in a multivariate neural guilt signature in the coerced than in the free condition, suggesting that this reduction of neural response associated with empathy could be linked to a reduction of felt responsibility and guilt. These results highlight that obeying orders has a measurable influence on how people perceive and process others' pain. This may help explain how people’s willingness to perform moral transgressions is altered in coerced situations.


Psychedelic drugs, including the serotonin 2a (5-HT2A) receptor partial agonist psilocybin, are receiving renewed attention for their possible efficacy in treating a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders. Psilocybin induces widespread dysregulation of cortical activity, but circuit-level mechanisms underlying this effect are unclear. The claustrum is a subcortical nucleus that highly expresses 5-HT2A receptors and provides glutamatergic inputs to arguably all areas of the cerebral cortex. We therefore tested the hypothesis that psilocybin modulates claustrum function in humans. Fifteen healthy participants (10M, 5F) completed this within-subjects study in which whole-brain resting-state blood-oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal was measured 100 min after blinded oral administration of placebo and 10 mg/70 kg psilocybin. Left and right claustrum signal was isolated using small region confound correction. Psilocybin significantly decreased both the amplitude of low frequency fluctuations as well as the variance of BOLD signal in the left and right claustrum. Psilocybin also significantly decreased functional connectivity of the right claustrum with auditory and default mode networks (DMN), increased right claustrum connectivity with the fronto-parietal task control network (FPTC), and decreased left claustrum connectivity with the FPTC. DMN integrity was associated with right-claustrum connectivity with the DMN, while FPTC integrity and modularity were associated with right claustrum and left claustrum connectivity with the FPTC, respectively. Subjective effects of psilocybin predicted changes in the amplitude of low frequency fluctuations and the variance of BOLD signal in the left and right claustrum. Observed effects were specific to claustrum, compared to flanking regions of interest (the left and right insula and putamen). This study uses a pharmacological intervention to provide the first empirical evidence in any species for a significant role of 5-HT2A receptor signaling in claustrum functioning, and supports a possible role of the claustrum in the subjective and therapeutic effects of psilocybin.


Conflicting theories identify creativity either with frontal-lobe mediated (Type-2) executive control processes or (Type-1) associative processes that are disinhibited when executive control is relaxed. Musical (jazz) improvisation is an ecologically valid test-case to distinguish between these views because relatively slow, deliberate, executive-control processes should not dominate during high-quality, real-time improvisation. In the present study, jazz guitarists (n = 32) improvised to novel chord sequences while 64-channel EEGs were recorded. Jazz experts rated each improvisation for creativity, technical proficiency and aesthetic appeal. Surface-Laplacian-transformed EEGs recorded during the performances were analyzed in the scalp-frequency domain using SPM12. Significant clusters of high-frequency (beta-band and gamma-band) activity were observed when higher-quality versus lower-quality improvisations were compared. Higher-quality improvisations were associated with predominantly posterior left-hemisphere activity; lower-quality improvisations were associated with right temporo-parietal and fronto-polar activity. However, after statistically controlling for experience (defined as the number of public performances previously given), performance quality was a function of right-hemisphere, largely right-frontal, activity. These results support the notion that superior creative production is associated with hypofrontality and right-hemisphere activity thereby supporting a dual-process model of creativity in which experience influences the balance between executive and associative processes. This study also highlights the idea that the functional neuroanatomy of creative production depends on whether creativity is defined in terms of the quality of products or the type of cognitive processes involved.


Lifestyle dietary interventions are an essential practice in treating obesity, hence neural factors that may assist in predicting individual treatment success are of great significance. Here, in a prospective, open-label, three arms study, we examined the correlation between brain resting-state functional connectivity measured at baseline and weight loss following 6 months of lifestyle intervention in 92 overweight participants. We report a robust subnetwork composed mainly of sensory and motor cortical regions, whose edges correlated with future weight loss. This effect was found regardless of intervention group. Importantly, this main finding was further corroborated using a stringent connectivity-based prediction model assessed with cross-validation thus attesting to its robustness. The engagement of senso-motor regions in this subnetwork is consistent with the over-sensitivity to food cues theory of weight regulation. Finally, we tested an additional hypothesis regarding the role of brain-gastric interaction in this subnetwork, considering recent findings of a cortical network synchronized with gastric activity. Accordingly, we found a significant spatial overlap with the subnetwork reported in the present study. Moreover, power in the gastric basal electric frequency within our reported subnetwork negatively correlated with future weight loss. This finding was specific to the weight loss related subnetwork and to the gastric basal frequency. These findings should be further corroborated by combining direct recordings of gastric activity in future studies. Taken together, these intriguing results may have important implications for our understanding of the etiology of obesity and the mechanism of response to dietary intervention.