The dynamical relationship of brain structure and function, environmental factors affecting autism and a budgie’s flight path: the PLOS Comp Biol March issue

Here is our selection of highlights published in PLOS Computational Biology for March.

Using mathematical models to design better anti-arrhythmic drugs. Image Credit: Megan Cummins, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Using mathematical models to design better anti-arrhythmic drugs.
Image Credit: Megan Cummins, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

The relationship between brain structure and function is a central endeavour for neuroscience research, but the mechanisms that shape this relationship are highly debated. Authors Arnaud Messé et al. addressed this issue by systematically comparing functional connectivity taken from imaging data with simulations from increasingly complex computational models. The study demonstrates the existence of a dynamical regime in the brain that appears to be largely induced and shaped by the underlying anatomy. It also revealed that the critical importance of specific anatomical connections in shaping the global anatomo-functional structure of this dynamical regime, notably connections between hemispheres.

One paper from our March issue was featured in the news. The first looked at the environmental factors affecting autism by analysing the spatial incidence patterns of autism and intellectual disability drawn from insurance claims for nearly one third of the total US population. Authors Andrey Rzhetsky et al. found strong statistical evidence that environmental factors drive the apparent spatial heterogeneity of both phenotypes. Read the New Scientist article about it here.

Another of this month’s papers investigated the means by which birds choose routes while flying in cluttered environments. Budgerigars were trained to fly through a tunnel that gave them a choice of two routes. When one of the passages was substantially wider than the other, the birds tended to fly through the wider passage, regardless of whether this passage was on the right or the left. Bhagavatula et al. developed a mathematical model of the interaction between the birds’ individual biases with their tendency to prefer the wider passage. The model reveals that this interplay is beneficial for expediting the passage of a flock of birds through a complex environment. A video of one of the experiments can be found here.

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