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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Feb 22;273(1585):503-11.

The brainstem reticular formation is a small-world, not scale-free, network.

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  • 1Adaptive Behaviour Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TP, UK. m.d.humphries@sheffield.ac.uk


Recently, it has been demonstrated that several complex systems may have simple graph-theoretic characterizations as so-called 'small-world' and 'scale-free' networks. These networks have also been applied to the gross neural connectivity between primate cortical areas and the nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans. Here, we extend this work to a specific neural circuit of the vertebrate brain--the medial reticular formation (RF) of the brainstem--and, in doing so, we have made three key contributions. First, this work constitutes the first model (and quantitative review) of this important brain structure for over three decades. Second, we have developed the first graph-theoretic analysis of vertebrate brain connectivity at the neural network level. Third, we propose simple metrics to quantitatively assess the extent to which the networks studied are small-world or scale-free. We conclude that the medial RF is configured to create small-world (implying coherent rapid-processing capabilities), but not scale-free, type networks under assumptions which are amenable to quantitative measurement.

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