Wednesday, July 10, 2024

From nematodes to humans a common brain network motif intertwines hierarch and modularity.

Pathak et al. (abstract below) suggest the evolved pattern they describe may apply to information processing networks in general, in particular to those of evolving AI implementations.

Nervous systems are often schematically represented in terms of hierarchically arranged layers with stimuli in the “input” layer sequentially transformed through successive layers, eventually giving rise to response in the “output” layer. Empirical investigations of hierarchy in specific brain regions, e.g., the visual cortex, typically employ detailed anatomical information. However, a general method for identifying the underlying hierarchy from the connectome alone has so far been elusive. By proposing an optimized index that quantifies the hierarchy extant in a network, we reveal an architectural motif underlying the mesoscopic organization of nervous systems across different species. It involves both modular partitioning and hierarchical layered arrangement, suggesting that brains employ an optimal mix of parallel (modular) and sequential (hierarchic) information processing.
Networks involved in information processing often have their nodes arranged hierarchically, with the majority of connections occurring in adjacent levels. However, despite being an intuitively appealing concept, the hierarchical organization of large networks, such as those in the brain, is difficult to identify, especially in absence of additional information beyond that provided by the connectome. In this paper, we propose a framework to uncover the hierarchical structure of a given network, that identifies the nodes occupying each level as well as the sequential order of the levels. It involves optimizing a metric that we use to quantify the extent of hierarchy present in a network. Applying this measure to various brain networks, ranging from the nervous system of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to the human connectome, we unexpectedly find that they exhibit a common network architectural motif intertwining hierarchy and modularity. This suggests that brain networks may have evolved to simultaneously exploit the functional advantages of these two types of organizations, viz., relatively independent modules performing distributed processing in parallel and a hierarchical structure that allows sequential pooling of these multiple processing streams. An intriguing possibility is that this property we report may be common to information processing networks in general.

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