Nature Reviews Neuroscience 13, 336-349 (May 2012) | doi:10.1038/nrn3214

The economy of brain network organization

Ed Bullmore1,2,3 & Olaf Sporns4  About the authors


The brain is expensive, incurring high material and metabolic costs for its size — relative to the size of the body — and many aspects of brain network organization can be mostly explained by a parsimonious drive to minimize these costs. However, brain networks or connectomes also have high topological efficiency, robustness, modularity and a 'rich club' of connector hubs. Many of these and other advantageous topological properties will probably entail a wiring-cost premium. We propose that brain organization is shaped by an economic trade-off between minimizing costs and allowing the emergence of adaptively valuable topological patterns of anatomical or functional connectivity between multiple neuronal populations. This process of negotiating, and re-negotiating, trade-offs between wiring cost and topological value continues over long (decades) and short (millisecond) timescales as brain networks evolve, grow and adapt to changing cognitive demands. An economical analysis of neuropsychiatric disorders highlights the vulnerability of the more costly elements of brain networks to pathological attack or abnormal development.

Author affiliations

  1. Behavioural & Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, Department of Psychiatry, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Cambridge CB2 0SZ, UK.
  2. GlaxoSmithKline, Clinical Unit in Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Centre for Clinical Investigations, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK.
  3. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge CB21 5EF, UK.
  4. Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA.

Correspondence to: Ed Bullmore1,2,3 Email:

Correspondence to: Olaf Sporns4 Email:

Published online 13 April 2012