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Smarter Brains Run on Sparsely Connected Neurons

Summary: A new study reveals the brains of higher IQ people tend to have leaner, yet more efficient neural connections. Researchers report, the more intelligent a person, the fewer dendrites they have in their cerebral cortex.

Source: RUB.

The more intelligent a person, the fewer connections there are between the neurons in his cerebral cortex. This is the result of a study conducted by neuroscientists working with Dr Erhan Genç and Christoph Fraenz at Ruhr-Universität Bochum; the study was performed using a specific neuroimaging technique that provides insights into the wiring of the brain on a microstructural level.

Together with colleagues from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Humboldt University of Berlin and the Lovelace Biomedical and Environmental Research Institute in Albuquerque, the team from the biopsychology research unit in Bochum published their report in the journal Nature Communications on May 15, 2018.

Intelligence is determined by the number of dendrites

The researchers analysed the brains of 259 men and women using neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging. This method enabled them to measure the amount of dendrites in the cerebral cortex, i.e. extensions of nerve cells that are used by the cells to communicate with each other. In addition, all participants completed an IQ test. Subsequently, the researchers associated the gathered data with each other and found out: the more intelligent a person, the fewer dendrites there are in their cerebral cortex.

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The new findings provide an explanation of conflicting results gathered in intelligence research to date. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

Using an independent, publicly accessible database, which had been compiled for the Human Connectome Project, the team confirmed these results in a second sample of around 500 individuals.

Previously conflicting results are thus explained

The new findings provide an explanation of conflicting results gathered in intelligence research to date. For one, it had been previously ascertained that intelligent people tend to have larger brains. “The assumption has been that larger brains contain more neurons and, consequently, possess more computational power,” says Erhan Genç. However, other studies had shown that – despite their comparatively high number of neurons – the brains of intelligent people demonstrated less neuronal activity during an IQ test than the brains of less intelligent individuals.

“Intelligent brains possess lean, yet efficient neuronal connections,” concludes Erhan Genç. “Thus, they boast high mental performance at low neuronal activity.”

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: The research was supported by the German Research Foundation, Mercur.

Source: Erhan Genc – RUB
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access research for “Diffusion markers of dendritic density and arborization in gray matter predict differences in intelligence” by Erhan Genç, Christoph Fraenz, Caroline Schlüter, Patrick Friedrich, Rüdiger Hossiep, Manuel C. Voelkle, Josef M. Ling, Onur Güntürkün & Rex E. Jung in Nature Communications. Published May 15 2018.
doi:10.1038/s41467-018-04268-8

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
RUB “Smarter Brains Run on Sparsely Connected Neurons.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 17 May 2018.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/intelligence-neural-networks-9077/>.
RUB (2018, May 17). Smarter Brains Run on Sparsely Connected Neurons. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved May 17, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/intelligence-neural-networks-9077/
RUB “Smarter Brains Run on Sparsely Connected Neurons.” http://neurosciencenews.com/intelligence-neural-networks-9077/ (accessed May 17, 2018).

Abstract

Diffusion markers of dendritic density and arborization in gray matter predict differences in intelligence

Previous research has demonstrated that individuals with higher intelligence are more likely to have larger gray matter volume in brain areas predominantly located in parieto-frontal regions. These findings were usually interpreted to mean that individuals with more cortical brain volume possess more neurons and thus exhibit more computational capacity during reasoning. In addition, neuroimaging studies have shown that intelligent individuals, despite their larger brains, tend to exhibit lower rates of brain activity during reasoning. However, the microstructural architecture underlying both observations remains unclear. By combining advanced multi-shell diffusion tensor imaging with a culture-fair matrix-reasoning test, we found that higher intelligence in healthy individuals is related to lower values of dendritic density and arborization. These results suggest that the neuronal circuitry associated with higher intelligence is organized in a sparse and efficient manner, fostering more directed information processing and less cortical activity during reasoning.

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