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What Happens When the Brain Loses a Hub Area?

3D model of a human brain with coloured string emitting from the sides.
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A University of Iowa-led team of international neuroscientists have obtained the first direct recordings of the human brain in the minutes before and after a brain hub crucial for language meaning was surgically disconnected. The results reveal the importance of brain hubs in neural networks and the remarkable way in which the human brain attempts to compensate when a hub is lost, with immediacy not previously observed.

“The rapid impact on the speech and language processing regions well removed from the surgical treatment site was surprising, but what was even more surprising was how the brain was working to compensate, albeit incompletely, within this short timeframe,” says Petkov, who also holds an appointment at Newcastle University Medical School in the UK.

The findings disprove theories challenging the necessity of specific brain hubs by showing that the hub was important to maintain normal brain processing in language.

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“Neurosurgical treatment and new technologies continue to improve the treatment options provided to patients,” says Howard, who also is a member of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. “Research such as this underscores the importance of safely obtaining and comparing electrical recordings pre and post operatively, particularly when a brain hub might be affected.”

According to the researchers, the observation on the nature of the immediate impact on a neural network and its rapid attempt to compensate provides evidence in support of a brain theory proposed by Professor Karl Friston at University College London, which posits that any self-organizing system at equilibrium works towards orderliness by minimizing its free energy, a resistance of the universal tendency towards disorder. These neurobiological results following human brain hub disconnection were consistent with several predictions of this and related neurobiological theories, showing how the brain works to try to regain order after the loss of one of its hubs.  

Reference: Kocsis Z, Jenison RL, Taylor PN, et al. Immediate neural impact and incomplete compensation after semantic hub disconnection. Nat Commun. 2023;14(1):6264. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-42088-7

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