In a nutshell: The brain hubs that combine information from brain regions with different functions have characteristic patterns of energy-related gene activity.

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The Big Picture:

Communication ‘hubs’ in the brain – highly-connected brain regions that send and receive large volumes of messages – share similar patterns of gene activity, according to this finding. And many of those genes produce molecules required to generate energy.

These “power-hungry” communication hubs are critical to integrating information between different parts of the brain, says Ben Fulcher of Monash University. That integration underpins all thoughts, emotions and complex behaviours.

To conduct the study, Fulcher and CIBF associate investigator Alex Fornito analysed the activity of over 17 000 genes in 213 regions of the mouse brain, including communication hubs identified from detailed maps of brain connectivity.

Dysfunctional or damaged communication hubs have been linked to brain disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and dementia.

“Our findings suggest that hub dysfunction in these disorders may be related to the supply of energy in the brain,” says Fulcher.

Problems with energy regulation are already known to play a role in certain types of brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and schizophrenia.

Next steps:
The team will seek to corroborate their findings in human brains. They will then investigate how energy regulation in the brain’s communication hubs influences development and progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Fulcher, B. D., and Fornito, A. (2016). A transcriptional signature of hub connectivity in the mouse connectome. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(5), 1435-1440.

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