Brain networks involved in decision making: an electroencephalography and magnetic resonance imaging study
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Executive function describes high-level cognitive-abilities including planning, decision-making, set switching and response inhibition. Impairments of the executive functions in disease states may be subtle but can greatly reduce the quality of life and independence. The overarching theme of this project was to investigate the network of brain regions that are needed to support executive function. This was undertaken using a two-fold approach: one, to apply network analysis to resting state functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (rs-fMRI) and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) data in order to describe how differences in morphometry and connectivity correlate to executive function differences of individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and two, to describe the brain networks involved in one form of executive function, decision-making under uncertain conditions, in young, healthy individuals. Impaired decision-making can dramatically impact day-to-day functioning and understanding the underlying network of regions that support this task can provide a target for future intervention studies. Data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) were used in the studies of MCI. Individuals were grouped by their executive abilities. A regions-of-interest approach was used to parcel and label various brain regions and a network of connections was constructed out of these regions. Differences between the networks were then compared between the MCI subjects with good and poor executive functions. Those with high executive abilities showed decreased functional network connectivity and increased structural network connectivity. The second arm of these studies was based an original decision-making paradigm that was used to compare of networks involved in decision-making at times of uncertainty in healthy young individuals using both electroencephalography (EEG) and task-based functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Overall we found greater network connectivity in the uncertain condition of the task than in the certain condition. This suggests that with increased uncertainty comes increased organized connectivity. Taken together, the results of this study re-iterate the notion that cognition depends upon the efficient communication between a network of brain regions rather than on isolated regions. They also highlight the importance of having a well-defined network of nodes and connections for optimal executive functioning.