The brain networks while resting

More knowledge about the interconnections between parts of the brain in different networks is important for the understanding — and, by extension, the treatment — of brain damage and mental illness. Peter Fransson, professor of brain system physiology, is mapping the appearance and function of these networks.

Professor Peter Fransson. Photo: Ulf Sirborn

Peter Fransson researches brain networks, or how different parts of the brain are connected to each other, and what functions these connections have. An important part of the research is to study brain activity when the brain is in "sleep mode".

"Research on the brain's function so far has been very focused on locating different parts of the brain: where vision, hearing, and so on is located", says Peter Fransson. "This has led to the examination in particular of how the brain responds to various forms of stimuli. The perspective in our research is to a large extent the opposite: we look at the structures that link together different parts of the brain, and how many processes operate on their own without stimuli.

One example is a network that runs along the brain's longitudinal fissure that becomes more active when the brain does not need to concentrate on a specific task. There is much to suggest that the network is linked to the functions associated with our ego experience, such as the autobiographical memory.

Increased knowledge of the brain's networks may be of great importance for ­ the treatment of brain damage and mental illness, believes Peter Fransson, who is involved in several clinical research projects.

"In one ongoing study, we are looking at the function of networks in patients­ with brain trauma, and we are trying to see if we can predict how well the brain will heal," he says. "The preliminary results look promising. We are also involved in research on mental illness - among other things, a large study on autism."

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "Från Cell till Samhälle", 2014.