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Dr. Russell Poldrack, University of Texas at Austin - Studying fluctuations of the brain

How you feel is influenced directly by changes in the brain.

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Russell Poldrack, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses his findings of a 14 month study he conducted on his own brain.

Dr. Russell Poldrack is a professor of psychology and neurobiology, and the director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Imaging Research Center. His research primarily targets how new skills are acquired and implemented. He received his PhD in cognitive psychology from the University of Illinois in 1995.

About Dr. Poldrack

The Poldrack Lab Website

Dr. Russell Poldrack - The Influence of Changes in the Brain

Do you sometimes have days when you just feel off, or conversely other days when you feel exceptionally great? The study of how psychological processes work in the human brain, which we call cognitive neuroscience, has told us a good bit about how the brain changes over time.  

But one aspect of brain function that has been almost entirely unstudied is how the function of an individual's brain fluctuates over the course of days, weeks and months.  

It’s crucial to understand how healthy brain function fluctuates if we want to understand brain  disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which can fluctuate greatly over the course of weeks. I decided to take matters into my own hands and became the first research subject in my own study of brain function over time. For the last 14 months, I have had two MRI scans in most weeks as well as having blood drawn once a week, making my brain one of the most intensely measured in the history of neuroscience. 

The project is called "MyConnectome" because it’s focusing particularly on how different networks in my brain communicate with one another, which is the goal of the ongoing Human Connectome Project. We are particularly interested in how communication between different parts of my brain changes in relation to psychological factors such as stress or mood, and how it relates to biological factors that will be measured from my blood. When it’s completed, the MyConnectome project will complement the Human Connectome Project by providing an in-depth analysis of how a single brain changes over time. Our initial analyses have shown that fluctuations in my mood are related to brain connectivity, and perhaps unsurprisingly that breakfast and coffee before scanning have a large impact on my brain's function. We hope that this research will ultimately be a proof of concept for a new research approach to help understand mental health disorders.

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