Running low on caffeine? This could be leading to changes in your brain connections, according to a Stanford researcher who studied MRI scans of his own brain over an 18-month period.

For a year and a half, psychologist Russell Poldrack started every Tuesday and Thursday morning by using an MRI machine and scanning his brain for 10 minutes – touted as the most detailed brain connectivity mapping ever that showed how the brain reorganizes itself when it is low on caffeine.

Poldrack and his colleagues published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Connectomes are multiple networks in the brain for vision, motor abilities, and task management, to name a few. The team sought to isolate these connections by examining functional MRI data gathered while Poldrack was resting.

"Once we had that data, we could get ideas of which regions of my brain are talking to each other by how correlated they are over time,” explained Poldrack.

The connectivity in Poldrack’s brain was consistent but exhibited some never-been-observed changes, believed to reveal differences between healthy brains and those of individuals with neurological conditions.

After gene sequencing, the team discovered that brain activity strongly correlated with changes in gene expression. Expression of inflammation and immunity-related genes, for instance, match the psoriasis flare-ups of the psychologist.

The surprising bonus found: caffeine deprivation emerged as the biggest factor that affected his brain connectivity. Connectivity between his caffeinated and non-caffeinated brain greatly varied, and the link between the network and systems in charge of higher vision become significantly tighter with caffeine deficiency.

"[B]eing caffeinated radically changes the connectivity of your brain. We don't really know if it's better or worse, but it's interesting that these are relatively low-level areas,” Poldrack said, saying his fatigue on those days may be driving the brain to be focused on better integrating its basic processes.

He expressed interest in scanning people with a bigger emotional variation and to use software that will see the interconnection between brain function and gene expression, which he mourned is not fully understood at present using current neuroscience.

The team had made the large data set and tools for analysis through the MyConnectome project website:

Photo: Jenny Downing | Flickr

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