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Understanding Gyrification Dynamics in the Human Brain

Seed Grants
Awarded in 2014

Watch "Unfolding the Brain" - a PHD Comics video about this research

Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 7 - 2014

Ellen Kuhl, Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering, Cardiothoracic Surgery
Antonio Hardan, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Roland Bammer, Radiology

One of the most intriguing questions of the 21st century is what causes the formation of folds in the human brain. Despite significant progress in biology, neuroscience, and medical imaging, the role of mechanics throughout this process remains poorly understood. Our overall objective is to create a multiscale model for gyrification dynamics in the human brain, in which form and function are characterized and integrated through morphological changes on the cellular, tissue, and organ levels. Our central hypothesis is that alterations in brain morphology are predictive indicators of neurological disorders. Within this seed grant, we focus on one particular disorder, autism, and combine mathematical modeling, computational simulation, nanoindentation testing, anatomical imaging, and magnetic resonance imaging to characterize gyrification in individuals with autism spectrum disorder and typically developing controls. We leverage our ongoing population-based study on autistic twins by collecting additional scans of a selected subgroup to create a longitudinal database, which will allow us to identify morphological changes in time. Using these data, we will establish functional relationships between gyral wavelength and cortical thickness, stiffness, and growth to create predictive mathematical and computational models for gyrification dynamics. Understanding the mechanisms of brain folding may have direct implications in the diagnostics and treatment of neurological disorders, including epilepsy, schizophrenia, and autism.