UNM MIND Imaging Center Measures "Brain Organization" and Intelligence


July 20, 2004

Contact: Luke Frank, Senior Public Affairs Representative 505/272-3679


ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Technological advances in neuroimaging have enabled researchers at the University of New Mexico MIND (Mental Illness and Neuroscience Discovery) Imaging Center to explore exactly where in the brain intelligence "occurs" and how it might be measured.

In a recent study to determine whether specific brain regions are correlated with intelligence, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the University of New Mexico's Health Sciences Center conclude that general human intelligence appears to be related to discrete brain regions that comprise a mere 5-6 percent of the brain's total gray-matter volume.

According to Rex Jung, Ph.D., assistant research professor with UNM's Department of Neurology, this research may help to better understand and treat individuals suffering a decline in their intellectual functioning, particularly dementia. "As our life expectancy increases, more people will suffer from vascular or Alzheimer's dementia," he asserts. "We need research focused on understanding the complex structure and functioning of our brain in order to combat these devastating brain diseases."

For this study, the results of which appear now on the online version of the journal "NeuroImage" to be published this fall. UNM and UC Irvine combined their respective neuroimaging technology and subject pools to study brain morphology with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Jung helped design the research protocol, conducted the MRI scanning, and performed cognitive testing on UNM subjects.

Using a technique called Voxel Based Morphometry (VBM), UC Irvine researchers converted MRI pictures into structural brain "maps" that correlate brain tissue volume with IQ. "Interestingly, along with the frontal lobes, we found strong associations between IQ and more posterior brain regions, largely overlooked in previous research," Jung adds.

"This is particularly important given our prior study using MRS (magnetic resonance spectroscopy), where we found strong associations between posterior white matter and IQ. Taken together, these studies suggest the importance of both gray and white matter in predicting IQ."

Integration seems to be a critical notion to further understanding the complexity of the brain. The MIND Institute, of which the UNM MIND Imaging Center is an integral component, is a unique scientific consortium between the University of New Mexico, Harvard University, the University of Minnesota, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and other leading research facilities. Its investigators are developing cutting-edge neuroimaging technologies, sharing their advances and pooling their resources with one another, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Many different imaging techniques can be used to study the brain, such as structural magnetic resonance (sMR), functional magnetic resonance (fMR), magnetoencephalography (MEG), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), and optical imaging. The MIND Institute combines these multi-faceted tools from institutions across the country to create a "virtual" image of brain structure and function.

This integrative strategy sharing techniques and expertise across sites and combining multiple approaches to understanding the mind and brain positions them to apply answers to crucial questions about the mechanisms and treatment of mental illness and neurological disorders.

"Only by understanding normal brain functioning can we hope to unlock the secrets of diseases such as dementia, schizophrenia and the like," Jung concludes. "By determining particular brain regions that underlie intellectual functioning, we can better understand how disruptions within these regions can lead to brain dysfunction characteristic of numerous psychiatric and neurological disorders."

Currently, the MIND Imaging Center houses two MRI scanners from which structural (sMRI), functional (fMRI), and chemical (MRS) research of brain structure and activity can be undertaken. Soon, the Imaging Center will add a magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine, making it one of the most sophisticated neuroimaging centers in the world.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center provides added value to health care through leadership in providing innovative, collaborative education; advancing frontiers of science through research critical to the future of health care; delivering health care services that are at the forefront of science; and facilitating partnerships with public and private biomedical and health enterprises. For more information on the UNM Health Sciences Center, visit http://.hsc.unm.edu.

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