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Brain surface

John Hasenkam johnh at faraway.hgmp.mrc.ac.uk
Sun Oct 24 00:33:51 EST 2004

Fernandez et al, Menstrual Cycle-Dependent Neural Plasticity in the Adult
Human Brain is Hormone, Task, and Region Specific.  The Journal of
Neuroscience, May 1, 2003 . 23(9):3790 -3795

>From the conclusion of the article. ...

Regardless of the underlying mechanism(s), our findings demonstrate
that cortical representations of language are variable in the
fully developed brain and that progesterone and estradiol may
modulate neuronal plasticity in a task- and region-specific manner.

Below is the link on replicability but given your comments you already have
a good grasp of the matter.

As to your comments on resting brain state, you might find the following

A default mode of brain function
PNAS u January 16, 2001  vol. 98 u no. 2


The "Bold Contrast" is an interesting assumption, addressed by the above
article(in the affirmative). I still have my doubts that the Bold Contrast
is always consistent, I suspect there will be circumstances where oxygen
demands may come very close if not exceed neural requirements. I also wonder
how this variation in oxygen availability varies with age. Even smoking
cigarettes, which increases haemoglobin, may have an impact. Don't know if
that has been looked into. A resting state, a brain doing nothing?

I agree with that fMRI needs to be approached with great caution. Great for
clinical purposes but as an instrument for hypothesis building it is already
loaded with many hypotheses. Like personality tests, fMRI results for any
individual can change over time. Unfortunately the images are beguiling and
while I trust that most in the research community are aware of the
limitations the public presentation of these findings is overly simplistic
and leads to all manner of strange ideas being bandied about. In my view we
would need much more discrete measures than these gross images. Phrenology
with coloured lights? Certainly but you'd be surprised how many fall down in

As to your speculations regarding the cause of increased blood flow, here's
a speculator. Nitric oxide. Required for NMDA via nNOS, can cross cell
membranes, and a vasodilator.


"John Hasenkam" <johnh at faraway.> wrote in message
news:4171033e at dnews.tpgi.com.au...
> Matthew - quickly,
> Never apologise for such replies, that is exactly what I was looking for.
> will gather some refs together for you and post in due course or forward
> directly to your email. This issue has been bugging me for many months now
> and it is good to see that others are prepared to help me along with this.
> As usual, you generate food for thought,
> Thanks,
> John.
> "Matthew Kirkcaldie" <m.kirkcaldie at removethis.unsw.edu.au> wrote in
> news:m.kirkcaldie-1C98BB.15542716102004 at tomahawk.comms.unsw.edu.au...
> > In article <416fb952 at dnews.tpgi.com.au>,
> >  "John Hasenkam" <johnh at faraway.> wrote:
> >
> > > Thanks for the correction Matthew, like the original poster I was
> the
> > > impression that fMRI was limited. Perhaps you can help me with another
> > > concern in relation to fMRI. I have noted in a number of articles that
> > > images produced for a given task can vary quite considerably.
> >
> > I am by no means an fMRI expert, but the fundamental limitation of the
> > technique is that it relies on changes in MRI density caused by changes
> > in local blood oxygenation (often abbreviated BOLD fMRI - Blood Oxygen
> > Level Dependent fMRI).  The technique, for those unfamiliar, involves
> > making a scan of the brain while the subject does nothing, and then
> > having the subject perform some kind of task or pay attention to a
> > stimulus, and making the scan again. The "resting" scan forms a
> > reference level, and at every point in the head, the "active" scan is
> > compared to the reference.  If the "active" scan density is different at
> > some points, it can be concluded that the local levels of blood
> > oxygenation have changed, and the point is coloured according to how far
> > off-baseline it is (calculated statistically based on the overall amount
> > of change seen in the scan).
> >
> > This leads to several serious limitations of fMRI, which are
> > particularly problematic when someone tries to treat an fMRI image as a
> > picture of "nervous system activity":
> >
> > 1. fMRI is a map of changes in blood flow: nothing more, nothing less.
> > It is conjectured, but not definitively proven, that active tissue in
> > the CNS can modulate local blood flow to produce changes in density on
> > an MRI scan.  fMRI advocates would say that the blood flow changes are
> > produced by whatever processes contribute to the mental activity being
> > performed, but that's rather a circular argument.  There's no proven
> > causal chain between, say, a neuron firing more actively and a change in
> > the amount of oxygenated blood flowing through the nearest capillary.
> >
> > 2. As far as I know, the mechanism by which blood flow is altered is not
> > understood. It is likely to be strongly mediated by astrocytes, whose
> > processes wrap brain capillaries in continuous sheaths, and hence would
> > be controlled by glial cells, rather than neurons.  Hence it seems
> > likely that the needs of glia are more relevant to fMRI than the
> > activity of neurons directly.
> >
> > 3. There is no absolute scale for what constitutes "active" levels of
> > difference on the fMRI image.  To a large extent they are set ad-hoc
> > based on the levels observed in individuals.  Hence it is difficult to
> > compare between individuals and between studies.  Normalised
> > co-ordinates such as the Talairach system can help adjust for the
> > structural differences in individual brains, but there's no way to
> > adjust for the real differences in regional function between
> > individuals, which have been demonstrated anatomically and
> > physiologically but don't show up on MRI.
> >
> > 4. Nobody has any idea if blood flow is modulated by the *type* of
> > processing in a given region - aside from the ignorant people who
> > believe we only use 10% of our brains, most neuroscientists would agree
> > that even during "resting", there is sustained and large scale activity
> > in the nervous system, and we are looking for fluctuations on a much
> > smaller scale, which may or may not be relevant to what the region is
> > doing.  For instance, active suppression of activity in a region is
> > almost certainly more metabolically expensive than normal processing, so
> > a strongly suppressed area would show up as more "active" on an fMRI
> > scan.  Histological stains which show markers of high metabolic need are
> > usually labelling inhibitory neurons, which tells us who the major
> > "blood consumers" are in the brain.
> >
> > 5. Similarly, it is possible that changes in patterns of activity,
> > rather than the overall amount of activity, could be far more relevant
> > in processing tasks and stimuli.  The idea of synchronisation has been
> > widely proposed as a way that processes could be "bound" together in
> > consciousness, but that only involves altering the timing of spikes, not
> > the overall number.  Presumably that wouldn't show up on fMRI at all,
> > since the tissue's metabolic demands would be unchanged.
> >
> > 6. An allied argument is that changes in blood flow are a cumulative
> > result of sustained activity, such that only the longest-duration
> > changes are going to show up as changes to blood flow.  The blood flow
> > changes necessarily lag whatever processes cause them, and that may take
> > place over a much longer time scale than the processing itself takes.
> > The longest-duration processes are not necessarily the most relevant to
> > the ability under study.
> >
> > Finally, the major problem with fMRI is that it produces pretty images,
> > at great expense, but really tells us very little about how the brain
> > does what it does.  Ask yourself whether our knowledge of face
> > recognition and how the brain does it is enhanced by knowing it's done
> > on the fusiform gyrus, instead of knowing it happens in the head
> > "somewhere".   Its illusion of specificity, combined with a lack of any
> > real insight to processing, produces the dangerous illusion of
> > understanding phenomena which in reality have only been *described*
> > slightly more accurately.
> >
> > These and other reservations have led to fMRI being characterised by
> > some hard-core physiologists of my acquaintance as "phrenology with
> > coloured lights." A harsh assessment, but one which I have found quite
> > hard to escape after hearing it.
> >
> > Of course there are insights to be gained from fMRI applied with regard
> > for its limitations, but there is a growing body of "soft" science which
> > appears to regard it as a kind of x-ray vision where you can watch
> > people thinking.  Sorry, not even close!
> >
> > > This concern was heightened recently when I read
> > > an unpublished paper citing that replicability in PET and fMRI is
> difficult
> > > to achieve. The author asserted that replicability was all but absent.
> When
> > > I found his web page he had posted various editor responses and none
> > > these indicated a challenge to his paper, rather that he needed to do
> more
> > > work, or it was not appropriate for that particular journal. The only
> reason
> > > I read this paper is because I had noted this lack of replicability
> > > mentioned in quite a few other papers, though only in passing.
> >
> > I'd love to read the paper you mention - these kind of views are not
> > very fashionable at the moment, and it would be great to hear what
> > others say.
> >
> > > Your opinion on these matters would be appreciated,
> >
> > Please bear in mind it's only an opinion, many others know way more than
> > I do about it, and I would appreciate corrections, refutations and
> > amplifications from others.
> >
> > Sorry to go on at such length - all this has been brewing at the back of
> > my mind for several months.  How do I know it was at the BACK of my
> > mind?  Well, there's this type of brain scanning called fMRI, and ...
> >
> > Cheers,
> >
> > Matthew.
> >
> > > ps, hope you get some rain down there soon, here in SE QLD dry as dust
> ... .
> >
> > Hope so for all of us, but if the CO2 continues to rise it might be an
> > academic question.

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