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Numerical investigation of biomechanically coupled growth in cortical folding

Shuolun Wang's picture

Cortical folding—the process of forming the characteristic gyri (hills) and sulci (valleys) of the cortex—is a highly dynamic process that results from the interaction between gene expression, cellular mechanisms, and mechanical forces. Like many other cells, neurons are sensitive to their mechanical environment. Because of this, cortical growth may not happen uniformly throughout gyri and sulci after the onset of cortical folding, which is accompanied by patterns of tension and compression in the surrounding tissue. Here, as an extension of our previous work, we introduce a biomechanically coupled growth model to investigate the importance of interaction between biological growth and mechanical cues during brain development. Our earlier simulations of cortical growth consisted of a homogeneous growing cortex attached to an elastic subcortex. Here, we let the evolution of cortical growth depend on a geometrical quantity—the mean curvature of the cortex—to achieve preferential growth in either gyri or sulci. As opposed to the popular pre-patterning hypothesis, our model treats inhomogeneous cortical growth as the result of folding rather than the cause. The model is implemented numerically in a commercial finite element software Abaqus/Explicit in Abaqus reference manuals, Dassault Systemes Simulia, Providence (2019) by writing user-defined material subroutine (VUMAT). Our simulations show that gyral–sulcal thickness variations are a phenomenon particular to low stiffness ratios. In comparison with cortical thickness measurements of N = 28 human brains via a consistent sampling scheme, our simulations with similar cortical and subcortical stiffnesses suggest that cortical growth is higher in gyri than in sulci.


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