Imaging the brains of healthy adults at rest, neuroscientists have shed light on how the relationship between the structure and function of millions of brain cells evolve over time and space in multiple brain regions – an understanding that may pinpoint the specific brain functions that lead to autism and schizophrenia1.

Previous studies have monitored only how a memory task activates specific brain regions. Those studies failed to capture how a brain functions when an individual is not performing any task.

Combining brain scan data with computer-based models, an international research team including scientists from the National Brain Research Centre in Haryana, and the International Institute of Information Technology in Hyderabad, India, provided crucial insights into mechanisms that drive human brain states based on the underlying brain connectivity patterns, even in the absence of stimuli.

The team, led by Dipanjan Roy, found that there is a great variation in brain function and behaviour among individuals. They also identified specific hidden brain states (flexible reconfiguration of functional brain circuits), throwing light on what precisely turns on a cluster of connected brain areas at rest.

These findings may allow more precise characterisation of cognitive brain dynamics and brain- state transitions during a multitude of tasks, maturation and age-specific reorganisation in the brain.

The findings can also help link an optimal brain state to a specific task. For example, failure to engage a network of brain states and patterns of connected brain areas in a timely manner may result in poor performance during a task such as learning, says Roy.