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Many neurodegenerative diseases spread by hijacking the brain's connective circuitry to transport toxic proteins, which gradually accumulate and trigger symptoms of dementias. Now, researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology and colleagues have modeled how these toxic proteins spread throughout the brain to reproduce the telltale patterns of atrophy associated with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
The work, to be published in the Oct. 12 issue of Physical Review Letters, could open a new frontier in computer brain modeling, as it highlights a first step toward bridging micro and macro approaches—from the interaction of individual molecules to medical image analysis of the entire brain. It can also expand the fundamental understanding of these diseases, which is estimated to affect more than 12 million Americans within the next 30 years if left unchecked.
Attempt - Scales - Level - Level - Lead
"This is a first attempt to bridge scales between the cellular level and the whole-organ level," says lead author Johannes Weickenmeier, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stevens. "The key is to couple biochemistry to the biomechanics of the brain to better understand the dynamics of these diseases."
As a postdoctoral researcher, Weickenmeier pioneered a technique for building a digital brain by using 3-D modeling software to arrange more than 400,000 pyramid-shaped virtual blocks, reconstructing block by block the highly folded and curved structure. "It's an art form," says Weickenmeier. "To reconstruct all those individual folds is pretty difficult."
Model - Data - Diffusion - Tensor - Imaging
He then overlaid his model with data gleaned from diffusion tensor imaging, which reveals the directions of signals passing through the brain. Some brain structures carry signals predominantly in specific directions, so the digital model captures not just the brain's anatomical features, but also the way electrochemical signals flow through them.
To model the spread of toxic proteins through the brain, Weickenmeier and...
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