The Development of a Noisy Brain

Anthony R McIntosh, Natasa Kovacevic, Sarah Lippe, Douglas Garrett, Cheryl Grady, Viktor Jirsa


Early in life, brain development carries with it a large number of structural changes that impact the functional interactions of distributed neuronal networks. Such changes enhance information processing capacity, moving the brain from a deterministic system to one that is more stochastic.  The evidence from empirical studies with EEG and functional MRI suggests that this stochastic property is a result of an increased number of possible functional network configurations for a given situation.  This is captured in the variability of endogenous and evoked responses or “brain noise”.  In empirical data from infants and children, brain noise increases with maturation and correlates positively with stable behavior and accuracy.  The noise increase is best explained through increased noise from network level interactions with a concomitant decrease of local noise. In old adults, brain noise continues to change, although the pattern of changes is not as global as in early development.  The relation between high brain noise and stable behavior is maintained, but the relationships differ by region, suggesting changes in local dynamics that then impact on potential network configurations.  These data, when considered in concert with our extant modeling work, suggest that maturational changes in brain noise represent the enhancement of functional network potential – the brain's dynamic repertoire.


development, complexity, brain, EEG, fMRI, aging

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