The physical links between brain regions, collectively known as the “connectome,” are part of what distinguish humans cognitively from other species. But they also differentiate us from one another. Scientists are now combining neuroimaging approaches with machine learning to understand the commonalities and differences in brain structure and function across individuals, with the goal of predicting how a given brain will change over time because of genetic and environmental influences.
[The Oregon Health and Science University lab headed by associate professor] Damien Fair, is concerned with the functional connectome, the map of brain regions that coordinate to carry out specific tasks and to influence behavior. Fair has a special name for a person’s distinct neural connections: the functional fingerprint. Like the fingerprints on the tips of our digits, a functional fingerprint is specific to each of us and can serve as a unique identifier.
[R]oughly 30 percent of the connectome is unique to the individual. The majority of these regions tend to govern “higher order” tasks that require more cognitive processing, such as learning, memory and attention — as compared with more basic functions like sensory, motor and visual processing.
It makes sense that those areas would be so distinctive, Fair explained, because those higher-order control regions are in essence what make us who we are.
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