Neural systems are shaped by multiple constraints, balancing region communication with the cost of establishing and maintaining physical connections. It has been suggested that the lengths of neural projections be minimized, reducing their spatial and metabolic impact on the organism. However, long-range connections are prevalent in the connectomes across various species, and thus, rather than rewiring connections to reduce length, an alternative theory proposes that the brain minimizes total wiring length through a suitable positioning of regions, termed component placement optimization. Previous studies in nonhuman primates have refuted this idea by identifying a nonoptimal component placement, where a spatial rearrangement of brain regions in silico leads to a reduced total wiring length. Here, for the first time in humans, we test for component placement optimization. We show a nonoptimal component placement for all subjects in our sample from the Human Connectome Project (N = 280; aged 22–30 years; 138 females), suggesting the presence of constraints—such as the reduction of processing steps between regions—that compete with the elevated spatial and metabolic costs. Additionally, by simulating communication between brain regions, we argue that this suboptimal component placement supports dynamics that benefit cognition.

The anatomical organization of the brain is shaped by competing constraints for improving brain function while reducing the costs for connectome wiring. Concerning this trade-off, we find that regions within the human brain are not positioned to minimize the total length of their connections. This nonoptimal organization is mainly attributed to frontal and occipital/parietal lobes, with connections between them acting as shortcuts allowing distant brain areas to communicate. By using a model of brain activity, we argue that this suboptimal spatial arrangement of the connectome promotes fluctuations in brain activity, enabling the brain to undertake flexible behavioral responses. Altogether, this highlights that brain structure, while spatially suboptimal, may offer dynamic advantages that support effective cognition.

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Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Handling Editor: Sarah Muldoon

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