A startling study based on the influence of coffee on
brain activity has signaled a new era in brain mapping studies. As the dynamic
characteristics of the brain have been studied intently in psychiatric
disorders but not among healthy individuals, Professor Russel A Poldrack from
Standford University, using himself as the study subject, carried out brain
mapping studies that lasted longer than a year. His study, published in The
Nature Communications attempts to understand brain activity of a healthy
person spread over a period of time.
Instead of merely performing brain MRI scans to understand the raging brain function, Russell and his colleagues based their research on the influence of coffee and breakfast on brain activity.
Until now scientists believed that coffee had the following benefits on the brain
- Gives a quick start to the day
- Improves mental function
- Delays mental aging
- Provides a surge of energy
Russel Poldrock scanned his brain twice a week for one and a half years, once a week after coffee and breakfast and once without.
Along with checking for brain activity using an MRI scan, Poldrock also gave blood samples to check for gene expression. The results of the study found that there were gene expression changes depending upon the changes in brain activity, especially those that corresponded with his psoriasis flare up.
Train of Thought:
Activities like attention and task management affect brain activity and to limit their effect, scientists studied brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) when the patient is at rest. This was true even for Poldrock who closed his eyes and began to relax when his MRI was taken. The process lasted for 10 minutes and was performed to understand which parts of the brain coordinated with each other and if the pattern existed even months after the initial identification.
The different regions of the brain communicate with each other to perform any action in a cause-and-effect relationship to ensure that the right action is mediated for each task. These communications are the basis of human behavior and help in understanding the brain reactions to various stimuli. This first ever attempt at understanding the communication network within the brain spread over a period of one and a half years is a landmark study that has many people studying Poldrock's brain activity data.
Initially, Poldrock believed that his brain activity could change depending upon his mood, like when he was sad, he felt his brain connectivity could resemble that of someone who was depressed. However, his brain activity seemed consistent, except for when he had or missed his morning drink, stressing on the influence of environmental factors.
Getting a-'head' in LifeThe brain mapping activity clearly shows that the connectivity of the brain differs when it is caffeinated than when it is not. According to Poldrock, "Easily the biggest influence we found in my brain connectivity was whether I had breakfast and caffeine or not".
Most coffee lovers would agree that the caffeine-rich drink shakes them out of their morning stupor. This is another study to support their belief. Only thing left is to find out if the changes in connectivity are good or not!
Researchers now want to carry out a similar study to understand neurological diseases which may result from disruptions in brain connectivity like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
1. Russell A. Poldrack, Timothy O. Laumann, Oluwasanmi Koyejo, Brenda Gregory, Ashleigh Hover, Mei-Yen Chen, Krzysztof J. Gorgolewski, Jeffrey Luci, Sung un Joo, Ryan L. Boyd, Scott Hunicke-Smith, Zack Booth Simpson, Thomas Caven, Vanessa Sochat, James M. Shine, Evan Gordon, Abraham Z. Snyder, Babatunde Adeyemo, Steven E. Petersen, David C. Glahn; "Long term neural and physiological phenotyping of a single human"; Nature communications, september 2015
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