Convergent evidence suggests that the brain function arises from the activity of neural networks on several different scales, and that malfunctions caused by psychiatric and neurological disorders are due to faulty connectivity. In order to reveal how the brain works as well as to understand the pathophysiological mechanism of psychiatric and neurological disorders, it is necessary to integrate the multi-level network features inferred by various functional and anatomical brain imaging technologies at multiple temporal and spatial scales, as well as the interaction of the individual with social and the environmental factors. We introduce the concept of “Brainnetome” for such integration framework. In more detail we define the essential components of the Brainnetome as follows:
- Identification of Brain Networks. The first goal of the Brainnetome is to identify brain networks with multimodal neuroimaging techniques, from the finest scale (microtechnique, ultramicrotomy, staining and visualization techniques), to the most macroscopic (EEG, fMRI, dMRI); and to explore the relationship among them. In particular, a new human brain atlas beyond the Broadmann’s will be established by combining brain connectivity with cytoarchitecture and other information on the microscale. This part of the Brainnetome Project is synergic with the Connectome project.
- Dynamics and Characteristics of Brain Networks. The Brainnetome will investigate dynamics and characteristics of brain networks during development, aging and evolution processes and how they are affected by learning, training, language, culture, diseases, stimuli, and so on. This part of the Brainnetome Project is synergic with the Physiome Project.
- Network Manifestation of Functions and Malfunctions of the Brain. One unique characteristic of the Brainnetome is to explore the core brain regions and their connectivity patterns for each cognitive function of the brain and how they are affected by neurological and psychiatric diseases and drugs and other stimuli. A specific goal is to explore how symptoms of neurological and psychiatric diseases alter brain networks.
- Genetic Basis of Brain Networks. The Brainnetome will investigate the effects of genetic variations on the brain networks which are related to behaviors, cognitive functions or cognitive disorders and to establish the relationships between Genome, Brainnetome and Phenome. It will also explore the influence of genetic factors on the developmental processes of specific brain networks through twin and pedigree studies. Moreover, it will investigate the biological mechanisms of genes modulating the brain networks based on the Brainnetome of the gene-modified animal models.
- Simulating and Modeling for the Brainnetome. An essential focus of the Brainnetome is to simulate and model brain networks with informatics and simulation technologies to understand the basic organizing principles of the brain, for example, how neurons are connected in the microscale brain networks (microcircuits), how microcircuits are arranged to form the mesoscale brain networks or brain regions, how regions are connected to form the macroscale brain networks, and how these organizing principles of the brain derive the cognition and behaviors. To this end, it needs to develop theory and methodologies and to integrate the existing and new supercomputing hardware with software and visualization tools.
It envisions that the Brainnetome will become an emerging co-frontier of brain imaging, information technology, neurology and psychiatry. Some long-standing issues in neuropsychiatry may be solved by combining Brainnetome with genome.
The Brainnetome Project was supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, the National Nature Science Foundation of China, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It is keen on developing strong academic, clinical and industrial links, leading to significant international collaboration as well as the practical applications of its researches.