Martijn van den Heuvel
Session: G. Brain disorders II
Will talk about: Integrative hubs in the connectome
Martijn van den Heuvel (1980) is a multidisciplinary scientist with a background in Cognitive Artificial Intelligence (MSc, 2004) and psychiatric medical imaging (PhD, 2009). His research focus is the network of connectivity of the human and animal brain, the connectome, with the aim to get better understanding of the fundamental rules of wiring of nervous systems, and in particular how these rules of wiring are associated with brain function and disfunction in health and disease. His field of expertise includes structural and functional MR imaging combined with network science, bridging the field of mathematics, informatics, psychology and medicine. He heads the dutchconnectomelab.org at the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus, Utrecht, The Netherlands, an enthusiastic group of PostDocs and PhD students that all have the core aim to understand the underlying ‘rules of wiring’ of brain networks.
Martijn’s work includes the reconstruction and examination of structural and functional brain connectivity, and the application of network science tools to get better understanding of how disruptions of macroscale brain connectivity play a role in brain disorders, ranging from neurodevelopment brain disorders such as preterm birth, psychiatric brain disorders such as schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative disorders that include and affect white matter brain connectivity such as ALS. Martijn’s fundamental work includes several studies on the ‘rich-club organization’ of nervous systems, describing a central backbone of densely connected hub regions in the human and animal brain that form a central system in the brain. Martijn hypothesises the rich club to play an important role in neural brain communication and integration of information, and therewith to bring significant benefit to advanced brain function. Martijn is passionately involved in dissemination of connectomics to the public, making popular science movies on brain connectivity and connectomics (e.g.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVN_dGXUzFs).
Embracing network science as a general framework to study the wiring of nervous systems, a species’ connectome, studies have shown nervous systems to reveal several features of an efficient communication network, including cost-effective wiring, pronounced community structure, short communication relays, combined with the existence of densely connected hub regions interlinking multiple domains. As observed across the nervous systems of a wide range of species, emerging evidence suggests the ordering of brain connectivity into topological local systems to form the anatomical structure for the emergence of specialised brain functions. However, the formation of clustered connectivity networks and brain specialisation alone cannot account for all aspects of brain function. Indeed, mounting evidence suggests that integrative processes and dynamic interactions across multiple distributed regions and systems underpin advanced cognitive processes. In my talk, I will highlight and discuss findings of a ‘rich club organization’ of nervous systems, discussing the important role of a densely connected 'rich club’ core in brain systems, suggesting the existence of a selective group of high-degree hub regions that form a densely connected backbone of neural connectivity. Offsetting their high cost in terms of investment of neural resources, I will discuss theories that suggest that rich club organisation may bring topological integration in nervous systems, bringing significant advantages for complex brain function. I will discuss a potential ‘richness’ of this club at different scales of brain organization, discuss findings of macroscale and microscale aspects of neural connectivity to be linked, and discuss how disruption in a rich club system may form an important factor in the aetiology of brain disorders, in particular for brain disorders that are characterised by a disruption of integrative brain processes, such as schizophrenia.