Background: Repeated practice to acquire expertise could result in the structural and functional changes in relevant brain circuits as a result of long-term potentiation, neurogenesis, glial genesis, and remodeling. Purpose: The goal of this study is to use task fMRI to study the brain of expert radiologists performing a diagnosis task where a series of medical images were presented during fMRI acquisition for 12s and participants were asked to choose a diagnosis. Structural and diffusion-tensor MRI were also acquired. Methods: Radiologists (N = 12, 11M, 38.2±10.3 years old) and non-radiologists (N = 17, 15M, 30.6 ±5.5 years old) were recruited with informed consent. Medical images were presented for 12 s and three multiple choices were displayed and the participants were asked to choose a diagnosis. fMRI, structural and diffusion-tensor MRI were acquired. fMRI analysis used FSL to determine differences in fMRI responses between groups. Voxel-wise analysis was performed to determine if subcortical volume, cortical thickness and fractional anisotropy differed between groups. Correction for multiple comparisons used false discovery rate. Results: Radiologists showed overall lower task-related brain activation than non-radiologists. Radiologists showed significantly lower activation in the left lateral occipital cortex, left superior parietal lobule, occipital pole, right superior frontal and precentral gyri, lingual gyrus, and the left intraparietal sulcus (p<0.05). There were no significant differences between groups in cortical thickness, subcortical volume and fractional anisotropy (p>0.05). Conclusions Radiologists and non-radiologists had no significant difference in structural metrics. However, in diagnosis tasks, radiologists showed markedly lower task-related brain activations overall as well as a number of high-order visual and non-visual brain regions than non-radiologists. Some brain circuits appear to be uniquely associated with differential-diagnosis paradigm expertise that are not involved in simpler object-recognition cases. Improved understanding of the brain circuitry involved in acquisition of expertise might be used to design optimal training paradigms.
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