For the past year and a half Stanford psychologist, Russell Poldrack, performed MRI scans on his brain every Tuesday and Thursday for 10 minutes. This long-term study aimed to monitor modifications in the connectome (the way different parts of the brain communicate with each other) over time in response to mood or environment changes. As Poldrack also fasted and gave blood every Tuesday, it was possible to attribute some of the remodelling to gene expression regulation.
For the most part, the connectome of his brain remained the same. However, on the Tuesdays he had not had his morning cup of coffee, the MRI scans revealed some differences. Specifically, the connection between the somatosensory motor network and the areas, responsible for higher level vision, became tighter. This was unprecedented proof of the influence of caffeine on the brain.
“That was totally unexpected, but it shows that being caffeinated radically changes the connectivity of your brain,” Poldrack commented. “We don’t really know if it’s better or worse, but it’s interesting that these are relatively low-level areas. It may well be that I’m more fatigued on those days, and that drives the brain into this state that’s focused on integrating those basic processes more.”
However, other studies have also hinted at the rewiring effects of caffeine. In 2013, scientists found that mice whose mothers had been exposed to caffeine during pregnancy had altered brain cells.
Poldrack and his colleagues have shared the data from this experiment in hopes that it can be analysed in novel ways and more could be discovered about the connectome. The entire data set is available online at http://myconnectome.org/wp/data-sharing.
Photo: Flickr, Jeff Kubina