Five years ago we formed the brain network recovery group – Brain NRG. This group of 17 scientists spanned the domains of computational, cognitive and clinical neuroscience, but shared a focus on understanding brain network dynamics and how it relates to recovery of function. Our approach moves away from the investigation of isolated regional responses and considers the function of each region in terms of its dynamic interactions with other brain regions. This allows us to (1) re-classify lesions in terms of the network of nodes (regions) and connections (axons, white matter tracts) that have been damaged and to (2) investigate the mechanisms that preserve function by understanding how regional damage affects the function of other parts of the network. In this context, brain repair (recovery of function) depends on the restoration and rebalancing of activity in the remaining nodes in the network.

Predicting and treating the consequences of brain damage has been notoriously difficult. This is because the relationship between the nature of the lesion and the functional deficit is highly variable across patients who have been grouped according to some classification metric (e.g. type of brain damage); and within individual patients who recover or deteriorate over time. A formalized explanation of such variability calls for (1) a re-evaluation of our classification metrics, (2) a better understanding of the mechanisms that preserve and/or restore function and (3) performance measures that are sensitive to subtle changes that occur over time.

Over the course of the prior five-year collaboration, we were able to establish some key insights into brain dynamics and their modification in brain damage and degeneration, and to lay a solid foundation for network approaches to brain recovery. The next step for our group is to consolidate and concentrate our efforts by directing them towards two major goals:

1) To build the Virtual Brain: a large-scale model of the human brain’s anatomy and physiology that embodies major principles of brain network function;

2) To use the Virtual Brain to integrate different sources of data from individual patients into classification metrics that will allow us to better understand, predict, and guide recovery of function.

To achieve the research mandate/vision will require the integration of research efforts in clinical, cognitive and computational neuroscience. The creation of the Virtual Brain provides a powerful computational environment or laboratory wherein modelers and clinicians will be able to manipulate network properties to understand the reorganization of brain dynamics and restoration of function.

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