BY KEVIN WEINER
New OHBM Communications Committee article on HuffPost Science:
It’s often hard to find easy-to-read articles about cool scientific findings that are written in a clear way - let alone articles that are understandable enough to use as bedtime reading with your child. But, here’s a little secret: there are articles out there that are actually written by scientists and approved by children before they are published. Read more
BY LEONARDO FERNANDINO
For over two decades functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been the indisputable workhorse in human brain mapping. Its ability to localize brain activity with high spatial resolution (millimeters), coupled with its non-invasiveness, make it an excellent tool for mapping behavioral and cognitive phenomena onto detailed brain anatomy. However, since fMRI relies on changes in blood flow, volume and oxygen concentration as indicators of neural activity, millisecond-scale fluctuations in neuronal activity are not reflected in the signal. The temporal resolution of fMRI (typically > 500 ms) is therefore too coarse to track neural activity in real time and discriminate rapidly succeeding neural events.
For example, some fMRI studies indicate that auditory cortical activations in response to signed language are stronger in deaf participants than in hearing individuals, raising the possibility that the auditory cortex is rewired to process visual information in deaf individuals. An alternative interpretation, however, is that visual processing of sign language occurs entirely in the visual cortex for both groups, and that activations in the auditory cortex reflect only a later, conceptual processing stage. The speed with which these processes occur makes it challenging to determine the precise sequence in which different brain regions become active using fMRI (or any other method that relies on metabolic responses, such as fNIRS or PET).
Fortunately, other non-invasive techniques can provide such precise temporal information. Electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) directly track the electrical activity of brain cells by measuring its effects on the electrical and magnetic fields just outside the head. They allow researchers to record brain activity at a very high temporal resolution (milliseconds), close to the actual timescale of neural computations.
EEG measures changes in electrical potential generated by the brain, which reflect the bulk electrical activity of many pyramidal neurons depolarizing in synchrony, through electrode leads placed on the scalp and connected to an amplifier. Researchers can then estimate the locations of the neural sources of these signals. The accuracy of these estimates depends, among other things, on the number of electrodes used, with higher numbers resulting in more precise estimates. Typically, between 64 and 256 electrodes are used.
Nevertheless, MRI-assisted EEG source localization is becoming more common. In both cases, the inverse solution is typically computed through an iterative algorithm that searches for the combination of cortical sources whose forward-modeled signal best matches the observed signal.
The main advantage of MEG over EEG comes from the fact that, while electrical signals are blurred and distorted by the skull, magnetic fields can traverse it virtually unobstructed. Thus, the MEG signal has higher spatial resolution, which allows better estimation of its neural sources.
MEG’s main disadvantage is the cost: the scanner and magnetically shielded room run in the millions of dollars, while a high-density EEG system costs under US$150,000 (although recent advances in quantum sensing might herald the coming of low cost, room temperature MEG). Even leaving these financial considerations aside, MEG still cannot completely replace EEG (nor vice versa), since the two techniques have complementary strengths. Because a magnetic field is oriented perpendicularly to its generating current, MEG is virtually blind to activations outside the sulcal walls, while EEG is maximally sensitive to activations in the gyral crests (and somewhat sensitive to activations in the sulci). Thus, simultaneous recording of EEG and MEG can add valuable information to the source estimation procedure.
Both EEG and MEG have been used clinically in the detection and localization of seizure activity in epileptic patients, which can be crucial for diagnosis and surgical planning. In research, they have been used to study a wide variety of problems, from spatial attention and synesthesia to sentence comprehension. Researchers at the University of California San Diego, for example, used them to answer the question posed earlier, of whether the auditory cortex in deaf individuals is indeed rewired for visual processing. By recording the MEG responses to signed language in deaf and hearing participants, they showed that, in both groups, activity was confined to the visual cortex in the early perceptual stage (~100 ms), and only later, during the lexico-semantic stage (~300 ms), the auditory cortex became active. This result provides compelling evidence against the auditory rewiring hypothesis.
Like any technique, MEG and EEG have unique strengths and limitations. The advantage afforded by high temporal resolution is partly offset by the relatively low spatial resolution of the estimated source locations. Nevertheless, researchers who manage to incorporate these approaches into their toolkit should expect a rewarding boost in their ability to probe the living human brain.
BY GUEST AUTHOR R. ALLEN WAGGONER
I had the honor of knowing Dr. Kang Cheng not only as a scientific colleague, but also as one of my closest friends for more than 20 years. He was the picture of health, so I was as stunned as everyone else when I learned that he has passed away suddenly at the age of 54. He left behind his wife, Professor Mariko Miyata, and their young son Kai.
Kang was born in Ningbo, China, in the province of Zhejiang, in 1962. He did not start out as a neuroscientist but graduated from Zhejiang University in 1983, with a B.A. in Geology. After graduating, Kang worked at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu Institute of Geography for six years, doing image processing of satellite images. His work in image processing led to several opportunities to come to RIKEN (The Institute for Physical and Chemical Research, in Wako-shi Japan) for short visits. One of those visits was in a neuroscience lab, the Information Science Laboratory, headed by Dr. Keiji Tanaka. Dr. Tanaka offered Kang the opportunity to join the lab on a more permanent basis, if he was interested in becoming a neuroscientist. Kang accepted this offer and moved to Japan in 1989.
Kang's neuroscience career ranged from histology and electrophysiology studies, to PET and, eventually, fMRI. In essence he left behind a career of making maps from satellite images for a career that would eventually lead to making brain maps from MRI images. The very first neuroscience study that he coauthored was published in Nature, not a bad start to a scientific career. That paper was on columnar organization in the inferotemporal cortex and columnar organization in the brain proved to be one of the primary themes in his scientific career. In 1995, Kang received his Ph.D. from Osaka University Department of Biophysical Engineering. His dissertation was entitled "Studies of Extrastriate Visual Cortex of Primates" and included both electrophysiological studies in monkeys and PET studies in humans. These studies were carried out in Dr. Tanaka's lab.
Kang stayed on in Dr. Tanaka's lab as a postdoc and when Dr. Tanaka received funding for a 4 Tesla MRI system in 1996, Kang became one of the primary members of the fMRI team within the lab. He spearheaded the effort to image cortical columns, which was and remains, a primary interest in the lab. His initial efforts lead to our 2001 Neuron paper on observing ocular dominance columns in humans, with fMRI. Ours was not the first paper reporting the observation of ocular dominance columns with fMRI, but many neuroscientists were skeptical of the earlier reports. In our paper, Kang described in detail many key methodological issues, such as the necessary shape of the Calcarine sulcus, the required slice orientation, and included illustrations of what the expected functional maps should look like if columns were successfully observed as well as when, for example, the slice orientation was not quite right. Kang's attention to detail won over the skeptics and this became the work for which Kang is best known.
Neuroimaging studies lie at the intersection of a variety of scientific disciplines. Kang (a neuroscientist) and I (an MRI physicist) working together was an example of this. But Kang recognized the importance of each member in the team having a basic understanding of all the methods being brought together. He felt that no aspect of the experiment or the analysis should be viewed as a black box, and that without at least a basic understanding of the contributions each discipline brings to neuroscience, communication with scientists from the various disciplines is very difficult. Thus our collaboration over the years included many long conversations about recent advances in MRI technology, the details of the neuroscience questions we were trying to answer, and whether the methods we, or others, were employing were even capable of yielding answers these questions. This also meant that we would often require new postdocs arriving in the lab to attend lectures aimed at lifting the cover off the black boxes in their background.
In 1997, RIKEN established the Brain Science Institute (BSI) and Dr. Tanaka's lab became one of the founding labs. In 2001, Kang was named Deputy Laboratory Head of the Laboratory for Cognitive Brain Mapping (the current name of Dr. Tanaka's lab). In 2006 Kang was named Head of the newly formed Support Unit for functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Kang continued to hold both appointments until the time of his passing. He was also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Science and Engineering of Saitama University.
Kang's life was not limited to science; during his years at RIKEN he helped organize intramural clubs for badminton, basketball, and soccer. He also enjoyed singing karaoke. In fact, in his early days at RIKEN, one of the main ways that he learned to both read and speak Japanese was by going to karaoke with his coworkers and learning to sing Japanese songs. At Kang's wedding reception, after prompting by several friends, he even gave an impromptu rendition of one of his favorite karaoke songs. He was also an avid photographer, and enjoyed filling the inboxes of his friends with pictures of conference dinners, his family having fun, or cherry blossoms in the spring.
I first met Kang and Dr. Tanaka at the University of Western Ontario. They were visiting Ravi Menon's lab and invited me there to interview for an MRI physicist position in Dr. Tanaka's lab. Kang picked me up from the airport and since then (for the next 20 years) he always enjoyed telling people how nervous I was when we first met in the airport. From that beginning we became life-long friends and he was even a groomsman at my wedding.
Kang was a good friend not only to those of us who worked closely with him, but to many in the neuroscience community as well. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
Two memorial websites have been set up in Kang's honor:
- One by his friends and colleagues at RIKEN: http://www.brain.riken.jp/labs/cbms/kchengmemorial.html
- The other by his friends in the Overseas Chinese Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine: https://ocsmrm.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/memorial_to_prof_kang_cheng/
BY GUEST AUTHOR PETER BANDETTINI
This post originally appeared on The Brain Blog by Peter Bandettini and Eric Wong. Republished with permission.
I’ve been working to advance Functional MRI (fMRI) since its inception. On Sept 14, 1991, two years into graduate school, and a month after seeing preliminary Massachusetts General Hospital results at the SMR meeting in San Francisco, Eric Wong and I performed our first successful fMRI experiment (Bandettini 2012).
Functional MRI, to this day, over a quarter century later, remains as exciting to me as on Day 1 as developments and applications continue at a rapid rate. While human brain imaging methodologies have arisen and grown over the years, and all of them, I’m certain, have interesting stories behind them, I wanted to share why I feel fMRI is unique:
1. fMRI was a surprising, rapid discovery.
Elements leading up to the discovery of fMRI were the discovery of BOLD by Ogawa et al (Ogawa 2012), the discovery of the dependence of blood T2 on oxygenation by Thulborn et al (Thulborn 2012), the advent of arterial spin labelling techniques by Williams et al. (Williams, Detre et al. 1992), the technical capability to perform EPI (Cohen and Schmitt 2012), and for the Minnesota group, higher field strengths (Uğurbil 2012).
The first fMRI results came from Ken Kwong’s penchant for trying interesting experiments. With Ken’s experiment, the method was discovered rather than incrementally developed. In fact, the pulse sequence and basic parameters used by Ken for BOLD were not anything overly complex or new – simple T2* weighted gradient-echo EPI at 1.5 Tesla. There was minimal time series processing involved then – in stark contrast to processing methods today. Interestingly, aside from the explosion in the sophistication of time series processing, the details of Ken’s first experiment have not qualitatively changed in terms of general practice over the years. He was just the first to realize that such a straightforward thing could be done!
This discovery surprised and excited the MRI community. To provide an analogy, it was as if we realized that if one sets the exposure settings of a standard camera just right, rather than just getting a photograph, you can get a picture of, say, subatomic particles. While the MRI scanner vendors adopted a wait-and-see approach before putting any resources into developing fMRI, the clinical and basic neuroscientists were highly motivated to start scanning.
2. fMRI was a revolutionary advance in functional imaging capability.
Functional MRI was, and still is, the only non-invasive, whole-brain method that has enough sensitivity to see human brain activity with about 2mm detail as it is happening in real time. This made for good science fiction before 1991. No one imagined it would become reality so quickly.
3. fMRI is deeply multidisciplinary.
Functional MRI brought disparate disciplines together in a way that was unprecedented. Suddenly, cognitive neuroscientists were having intense conversations with MR physicists. Computer programmers were talking with clinicians. The best fMRI research today has a signature of advancing methodology and insight into brain function – requiring close collaborations between physicists, statisticians, programmers, and neuroscientists.
4. fMRI is riding on the back of the clinical MR industry.
A huge factor that many people overlook is that fMRI was able to launch and propagate so rapidly because it leveraged the massive clinical MRI industry. In the early 90’s there were at least 20,000 clinical MRI scanners worldwide. By 1998, most MRI scanners were equipped with EPI – for other more clinically relevant purposes such as following a bolus of gadolinium for perfusion imaging or visualizing the heart beating.
Even though fMRI had minimal clinical impact, almost every MRI scanner in every hospital in the world was a potential brain function imaging machine. There was no need for a manufacturer to make fMRI machines. They already existed! These scanners were priced at over $1M each and were paid for and supported by hospital revenue – not neuroscience research grants. Today, that’s changing somewhat as the fMRI market grows and research grant revenue towards fMRI increases, but the reality is that fMRI depends on the clinical MRI market to survive.
fMRI has tremendously benefited from essentially riding on the back of the clinical MRI industry. This relationship has clear drawbacks too. Many interesting pulse sequences and custom fMRI setups are not being disseminated worldwide because the scanner vendors do not yet see a large enough market of fMRI to necessitate adding more development resources. Until fMRI becomes a thriving clinical technique (hopefully soon), it will be at the mercy of the clinical focus of the MRI scanner vendors – namely Siemens, General Electric, and Philips.
5. The degrees of freedom in fMRI acquisition is vast and unexplored.
We can do so much more than collect a simple time series of T2* weighted echo planar images. The ability to derive physiologic and neuronal information from MRI is still being explored as there are so many “knobs” you can adjust on the acquisition side to highlight gray matter, white matter, CSF, flowing blood, perfusion, iron deposits, vascular territories, trauma, leaks in the blood brain barrier, hemorrhage, deoxygenated blood, metabolism, pulsation, macromolecules, temperature, water diffusion, diffusion anisotropy, and much more. Additionally, the information that may be useful to fMRI is also still relatively untapped. Along with mapping the magnitude of the hemodynamic response as is most commonly done, we can derive information about latency, fluctuations, oxidative metabolic rate changes, blood vessel sizes, oxygenation, and more.
6. Processing methods are exploding in variety and sophistication.
Functional MRI processing methods continue to surprise – as it seems that the field continues to find new and better ways to extract, compare, and display new hemodynamic and neuronal information in groups and individuals. With the emergence of massive shared data sets, ever more subtle information about individual differences and similarities is being plumbed with the help of modern machine learning approaches.
7. Functional MRI just works.
Functional MRI just works – almost every time! It’s a stunningly robust technique. The functional effect size to noise ratio (from 6/1 to 1/1) is still perhaps too small and subject-wise variability a bit to large (with current post processing techniques) for robust clinical use (at least 10/1 is considered essential) but is large enough to see a significant effect within a few minutes of averaging. If it took 6 hours of averaging to see something, ambitious people would still do it but it would be much more difficult and the field would be much more anemic at this point.
8. fMRI requires two highly serendipitous properties.
Another key to fMRI that is commonly taken for granted: It requires two very subtle yet all-important properties to be possible at all. The first is that hemoglobin has to change its magnetic susceptibility in a non-trivial manner between being oxygenated and deoxygenated. This is an extremely rare property of a biologic tissue. If our blood were copper based – as with mollusks – rather than iron based, this would not happen. We would not have BOLD contrast as copper based blood does not change susceptibility with oxygenation. The second all-important property is that, with activation, a localized flow increase in the active region creates a highly focal overabundance of oxygenation. Why didn’t nature just require that the oxygenation stay the same in the active regions? We are still trying to figure that out, but the fact that it does – every single time with every person – similarly across species – in the same precise way in a stunningly consistent manner is highly fortunate. Perhaps our brains could have evolved a system where localized activation-induced changes in flow increased to simply match the increased metabolic needs rather than apparently overshoot them. If this happened, there would be no BOLD changes. We are lucky!
9. fMRI fills a unique temporal and spatial niche.
The information that fMRI provides fills a large and interesting temporal and spatial niche in understanding brain organization. Our brains are highly modular, and fortunately, the larger modules (motor cortex, visual cortex, etc..) are easily large enough to be discerned with fMRI. If our largest brain modules happened to be no larger than ocular dominance columns, fMRI would have never taken off, and if it did, interpretation of the results would have been a challenge at best. We’ll likely gain enough sensitivity and resolution soon to routinely probe the columnar and layer level organization of the brain soon – which brings us to the next unique property…
10. The highest fMRI spatial resolution matches the intrinsic precision of hemodynamic control.
It appears that the highest resolution achievable to fMRI (limited by scanning technology) – that of cortical columns or layers – matches the intrinsic precision of hemodynamic control. In other words, the smallest homogeneously activated region that causes a focal change in blood flow is on the order of columns or layers (<1mm). This perhaps suggests that this is the smallest scale in which groups of neurons are activated together. This last point is potentially controversial as it may suggest that looking any finer than this scale at neuronal activity may not necessarily lend insight into modular brain organization. Either way, again it’s fortuitous that fMRI resolution limits match the hemodynamic control limits – at least in humans.
The OHBM Blog Team thanks Peter Bandettini for this guest post.
Interested in submitting a guest post for consideration? Email your post to the OHBM blog team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY NILS MUHLERT
Many neuroimaging projects are multi-disciplinary. They often involve collaborations between physicists, engineers, computer scientists, biologists, cognitive scientists, and clinicians amongst others. Inevitably, this leads some to go well beyond their core discipline, learning and making notable advances in complementary fields. Michel Thiebaut de Schotten’s career falls firmly within this camp. With a background in Psychology, Michel went on to make substantial advances in neurobiology and neuropsychiatry, co-authoring a fundamental book on white matter anatomy (Atlas of Human Brain Connections), and papers on the anatomy of spatial neglect, attention and word reading ability, before reinterpreting and re-analysing data from historical case studies in neurology. This breadth of experience lends itself well to OHBM, a society that provides a bridge between disciplines.
Following 8 years as postdoc and research fellow in King’s College London, Michel recently crossed the channel back to France, starting the ‘Brain Connectivity and Behaviour’ group in Paris’s famous Hôpital de la Salpêtrière at the Sorbonne. Michel has also recently taken over the role of OHBM treasurer, from the previous incumbent Kevin Murphy. Here, we find out more about Michel’s scientific journey and what he hopes to achieve in this new role.
Nils Muhlert (NM): Looking back over your studies, which would you say you are most proud of, and why?
Michel Thiebaut de Schotten (MTdS): Our most recent work on the subdivision of the brain based on structural connectivity is a real source of pride. My team and I have been working hard on this method. I feel that we are making a big theoretical step forward in the way that we look at structural connectivity. We now, finally, can unify white matter organisation with the functional specialisation of the grey matter. I am really excited about the future discoveries that this new method will bring.
NM: Sounds exciting! How does this new approach approach work?
MTdS: We identified units of cortex with a specific signature of connectivity with the rest of the brain and decoded their function using the tool ‘decode’ on neurosynth. Interestingly, areas defined by their connectivity exhibit variations in extent and localisation between brains but retain a robust pattern of connectivity. Hence, these methods offer an ideal new way to study the relationship between structural and functional variability by providing more individually tailored brain models (for more info, see our recent editorial).
NM: Your published work could easily be described as ‘multi-disciplinary’ - do you see yourself as more of a cognitive scientist, neurology-researcher, historian, or something else?
MTdS: I am a neuropsychologist and I am passionate about my work. This sometimes leads me to explore and use new methods or spend long hours reading antiquated manuscripts. My motto is to “strive for a better understanding of the research of the past in order to appropriately contribute to the research of the future”.
NM: Why did you want to become involved with the OHBM executive committee?
MTdS: Mostly out of curiosity. I am a great admirer of OHBM`s work, having attended every annual meeting since 2006. As each year passes, the work of OHBM has become more and more impressive with regard to both the content of the programme as well as to the overall organisation of the meeting. Having served as a dedicated Program/Treasurer Committee Member in the International School of Clinical Neuroanatomy in the past, I wished to expand on my experience as OHBM treasurer.
NM: Tell us a bit about the logistics of being treasurer for OHBM - what are the main roles and challenges?
MTdS: As Treasurer, the core attribute of my role is to verify, monitor and validate expenses, and prepare the budget for next year’s conference.
The main challenge of the role is mobilising committee members in order to reach a consensus on each proposition. Committee members are very intelligent expert scientists, professionally trained to question everything. That in itself makes the OHBM Committee a particularly challenging crowd to convince.
NM: What would you like to achieve as OHBM treasurer?
MTdS: In my term as OHBM Treasurer, I would like to accomplish three specific goals. I would like to (1)Set up a policy for the OHBM’s reserve funds, (2) Reduce the price of the educational courses’ registration to its bare minimum, (3) Reduce the price of the conference registration for students.
Many thanks Michel!
BY TZIPI HOROWITZ-KRAUS
Read Part 1 of this interview here.
Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus (THK): What do you consider to be the greatest scientific discovery that was made possible by neuroimaging?
Karl Friston (KF): That's a difficult question. I think we all have to acknowledge that there is no field in systems neuroscience that hasn't been profoundly touched by neuroimaging. However, I think the impact and import of neuroimaging is not about discovery, it is seismic in a slower and subtler way; basically, neuroimaging makes a lot of sense of stuff that we already knew. In other words, I would not point to what has been discovered as the validation of brain mapping but point to how it makes sense of the vast amount of knowledge that has been accrued through the centuries of anatomy, physiology and psychology. We knew a lot of things in the past but now we know how to put them together. Neuroimaging can contextualize mesoscopic – and indeed synaptic or molecular – findings and say why that is important and how it relates to this, and how those findings could drive the next wave of imaging neuroscience.
THK: What do you think are the most pressing issues in neuroimaging for your area of interest?
KF: More detailed and mechanistic modeling of distributed neuronal responses. For instance, getting the right kind of connectivity and determining how to best integrate structural and functional connectivity. Other issues include connecting behavior to physiology and connecting functional connectivity to the underlying synaptic processing, and connecting synaptic processing to microcircuits – and microcircuits to whole brain connectomes.
When people ask me “What is the most important issue for you?” I respond "the issues that I work on"; namely, biophysical modeling (at least in my day job). In short, getting better and better modeling tools that enable people to ask evidence-based questions about the mechanisms that underlie the functional integration they are interested in.
THK: What do you think is the future of neuroimaging for basic research, for translation and maybe for applications as well?
KF: There are many avenues for neuroimaging in the future and I guess it depends where you place yourself in the spectrum of basic to clinical neuroscience. I think neuroimaging is not a field, it's a tool: it provides data or evidence for ideas and hypotheses. In this sense, the integration of neuroimaging with other modalities of enquiry probably holds the greatest promise. For example, one can see this in the use of whole brain imaging to contextualize invasive electrophysiology – which takes us into the realm of basic neuroscience and, if we put pharmacology and genetics on top of that, molecular neuroscience. A nice example of this is the molecular basis of neuromodulation and its effect on effective connectivity at the synaptic and molecular level. To get to this future, we need mechanistic, biophysically grounded, models in place – that can generate and make predictions about the molecular biology of synaptic plasticity; for example, models based on the short-term changes in synaptic efficacy that also explain a BOLD response in the fusiform gyrus. When we get that far, I think the future will no longer be brain mapping – it will be brain metrology.
I started in schizophrenia research. The future for people like me is ultimately translational in nature. Clearly, it will be nice to predict outcome trajectories of neuropsychiatric syndromes based on a psychopathology and pathophysiology. I suspect that this ambition has led to the emergence of computational psychiatry in recent years. Interestingly, most people working in computational psychiatry come from neuroimaging. There is a clear reason why that might be the case: if you're a doctor and you're worried about your patients, a non-invasive neuroscience is very appealing. Neuroimaging is par excellence, the non-invasive tool that can harness computational and basic science advances; hopefully, in the service of refining our understanding and treatment of neuropsychiatric conditions.
THK: Fifty years from now where do you think the neuroscience field will be?
KF: I think the interesting challenges I see around at the moment are in artificial intelligence. I think there are going to be big advances in artificial intelligence – and they will inform us at many different levels in neuroscience, clinical management and possibly well-being. From a personal perspective, this is largely the focus of my Sunday job.
I love the idea of having sentient curious machines living in your computer and working with you. One can imagine interactions with e-creatures that live in an electronic world and that have a purpose beyond minimizing some cost function. They have a purpose that is epistemic – and they want to learn what they can do and learn about you – like a proactive personalized Wikipedia. They will know that you are information hungry and might create novel situations for you that you have to explore.
THK: So it will be an extension of yourself without limits. ..
KF: I was thinking more of an extension of your parents. :)
Karl Friston is a theoretical neuroscientist and authority on brain imaging. He invented statistical parametric mapping (SPM), voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and dynamic causal modelling (DCM). These contributions were motivated by schizophrenia research and theoretical studies of value-learning formulated as the dysconnection hypothesis of schizophrenia. Mathematical contributions include variational Laplacian procedures and generalized filtering for hierarchical Bayesian model inversion. Friston currently works on models of functional integration in the human brain and the principles that underlie neuronal interactions. His main contribution to theoretical neurobiology is a free-energy principle for action and perception (active inference). Friston received the first Young Investigators Award in Human Brain Mapping (1996) and was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (1999). In 2000 he was President of the international Organization of Human Brain Mapping. In 2003 he was awarded the Minerva Golden Brain Award and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2006. In 2008 he received a Medal, College de France and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of York in 2011. He became of Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2012, received the Weldon Memorial prize and Medal in 2013 for contributions to mathematical biology and was elected as a member of EMBO (excellence in the life sciences) in 2014 and the Academia Europaea in (2015). He was the 2016 recipient of the Charles Branch Award for unparalleled breakthroughs in Brain Research and the Glass Brain Award, a lifetime achievement award by OHBM (the Organization for Human Brain Mapping) in the field of human brain mapping. He holds Honorary Doctorates from the University of Zurich and Radboud University.
Special thanks to Jeanette Mumford for her assistance in transcribing and editing this interview.
This interview took place December 8, 2016 at the Educational Neuroimaging Center, Faculty of Education in Science and Technology, Technion, Israel.
BY TZIPI HOROWITZ-KRAUS
If there is one name in the field of neuroscience that is known and appreciated by many young researchers, it is likely Prof. Karl Friston. He is one of the founders of brain mapping, the father of multiple theoretical models, and the creator of tools that brain mappers use to better understand that most unique organ, the brain. Brain mappers from around the world recognize and acknowledge the contributions of Prof. Friston and their impact on our understanding of brain function and organization.
I recently had the honor and pleasure to meet Prof. Friston during his visit to the Technion in Israel. Following his fascinating talk entitled “I am, therefore I think”, we met for a cup of tea in the Educational Neuroimaging Center, to discuss some of the most pressing questions in the field of neuroimaging—questions that only Prof. Friston, with his vast experience and vision, can answer.
Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus (THK): If you are riding in an elevator, how would you describe your research and what you do for a living to person you are rising with?
Karl Friston (KF): My working week can be divided into two - my day job and my theoretical work on the weekends. My day job is to model and analyze brain imaging data and provide tools that allow for Discovery Science with neuroimaging. On Sundays, I indulge myself with theoretical neurobiology, computational neuroscience and more abstract theorizing about how the brain works and what it does. I do this in the fond hope [that is sometimes realized and sometimes not] that having a global, theoretical perspective on what the brain does will inform and constrain its empirical study. This theorizing helps with many practical aspects of developing schemes and models that enable people to pose questions to their data – and ensures this process is explicit transparent and rigorous. In short, I am largely an enabler during the week and a theorist at the weekend.
THK: What motivated you to go into that area of Neuroscience?
KF: From the age of 15, I wanted to be a neuroscientist but neuroscience as we know it today didn't exist at that time. For me, it was some form of mathematical psychology. I therefore went to my careers advisor and told him I wanted to be a psychologist, but I also wanted to do physics. He told me that “if you want to be a psychologist, you have to be a Doctor first”. He clearly thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist – and neither of us knew the difference! I followed his advice and diligently went to university (studying physics and medicine). I spent six years of my life becoming a doctor, before realizing my mistake.
Having committed to being a doctor, I then had to get back to brain research as quickly as possible: there were two routes in those days – Neurology or Psychiatry. At that time, psychiatry was – and still is – very exciting (in terms of things like neuropharmacology and addiction research). So I became a psychiatrist and, as soon as I qualified, took the first opportunity to enter research. All this meant that I was 28 before I began my research career, starting with psychopharmacology and then Schizophrenia research – inspired by my mentors in biological psychiatry. Luckily, brain imaging came along at precisely that time. It was lucky because it meant I could use my undergraduate training in physics and math.
THK: In the last meeting of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping you were awarded with the “Glass Brain Award” for your great contribution to the field of Brain Mapping. You gave an inspiring speech and acknowledged the role of friendship and colleagues in your scientific career. In the competitive world of science, it is sometimes challenging to remember these important values. Will you be able to share one personal story with me where it was friendship and collaborative work that resulted in a significant scientific accomplishment?
He was looking at the geometry of the tips of the maple leafs. Within a few months, Alan managed to supplant his maple leaves with neuroimaging data. A couple of years later, I met Keith (and one of his heroes – Prof. Robert Adler; now here in Electrical Engineering at the Technion and the reason that I'm here) and I learned about the utility of Random Field Theory, which is the basis of SPM (http://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/spm/). What came out of our collaboration illustrates a practical thing about international friendships: you can only make them work – when you're both very busy – through young people. It's very much like parents who are terribly distracted by other commitments but who share a common investment in their children. There were several young people that Keith and I engaged by inventing a question; for example, how do you estimate ‘smoothness’, when the smoothness of your data is not uniform. These problems were essentially an excuse to ‘adopt a child’ who would inevitably ‘grow up’ very quickly. A nice example of this was Jonathan Taylor, who was Keith’s PhD student who came to spend a year in the Technion with Prof. Adler. Someone who made Keith and I ‘proud parents’ is Jean-Baptiste Poline. Jean-Baptiste went on to be the first winner of the OHBM Education in Neuroscience Award. This joint supervision became a good model for all my collaborative innovations. There are many similar stories. The most recent arose from a friendship with Pascal Fries: we ‘adopted’ another young person (Andre Bastos) who is now doing a wonderful job dealing with hard core issues in electrophysiology and predictive coding. I should note one's ‘children’ generally become more expert than their parents, which is a hallmark of good parenting.
THK: What advice do you have for a young graduate student who is interested in pursuing a career in neuroscience?
KF: Develop a breadth of skills, interests, and perspectives. Then build a little pyramid on this broad base as the years roll on. You will naturally hone in on the things you find attractive and engaging. Usually, these are the sorts of things you knew you wanted to do at the beginning, but they only reveal themselves clearly with time. Breadth is the key thing; in terms of the people you can work with and in terms of conceptual tools you bring to the table.
For me, math is an important part of a broad base. I often meet people who say “I wish I learned more mathematics when I was younger”. I remember doing trigonometry and thinking "This is rubbish, when on earth am I going to use all these sines and cosines?" However, I guarantee within a year you will find yourself in a situation where you need a seemingly useless skill set (even trigonometry) – and you will be cross with yourself if you ignored the earlier opportunity. In short, keep your options open. That would be my advice.
I find that lots of young scientists are often worried about their next step. I've never worried about my next job. My advice is to make a sensible decision at every little point in your career path. All you have to do is to make the right small choices and everything will be fine (if you keep your options open).
Karl Friston is a theoretical neuroscientist and authority on brain imaging. He invented statistical parametric mapping (SPM), voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and dynamic causal modelling (DCM). These contributions were motivated by schizophrenia research and theoretical studies of value-learning formulated as the dysconnection hypothesis of schizophrenia. Mathematical contributions include variational Laplacian procedures and generalized filtering for hierarchical Bayesian model inversion. Friston currently works on models of functional integration in the human brain and the principles that underlie neuronal interactions. His main contribution to theoretical neurobiology is a free-energy principle for action and perception (active inference). Friston received the first Young Investigators Award in Human Brain Mapping (1996) and was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (1999). In 2000 he was President of the international Organization of Human Brain Mapping. In 2003 he was awarded the Minerva Golden Brain Award and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2006. In 2008 he received a Medal, College de France and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of York in 2011. He became of Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2012, received the Weldon Memorial prize and Medal in 2013 for contributions to mathematical biology and was elected as a member of EMBO (excellence in the life sciences) in 2014 and the Academia Europaea in (2015). He was the 2016 recipient of the Charles Branch Award for unparalleled breakthroughs in Brain Research and the Glass Brain Award, a lifetime achievement award by OHBM (the Organization for Human Brain Mapping)in the field of human brain mapping. He holds Honorary Doctorates from the University of Zurich and Radboud University
Special thanks to Jeanette Mumford for her assistance in transcribing.
BY EKATERINA DOBRYAKOVA
New OHBM Communications Committee article on HuffPost Science:
There’s been an increasing amount of media attention to the topic of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) -bolstered in part by conversations surrounding the 2015 Hollywood blockbuster Concussion. The movie Concussion describes a particular phenomenon, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, which occurs in the brain after repeated high impact blows to the head. The diagnosis of CTE requires examining brain tissue under a microscope after death, so it can’t be diagnosed in living individuals. But in fact, there are many types of TBI, with concussion being the mildest (but most common) form. Today, brain mapping techniques are making it possible to identify TBI and track recovery.
BY PANTHEA HEYDARI
Last week, we were hit with the news. It was friday night. December 2, 2016. We were at an Escape Room in West Hollywood celebrating my friend’s successful doctoral defense. “Cheers to the Doctor!” It was glorious. He had made it the other side of graduate school. Not that there was any doubt, but, damn, did it feel good. And it wasn’t even me!! It was a night for celebration! And we had just solved the Escape Room mystery. Cherry on top of the day! But then, we got the email. “With tremendous sadness, I write to share the news that Professor Bosco Tjan was tragically killed this afternoon.”, wrote President C. L. Max Nikias. There was something about his prolific work in vision, a student--wait a stabbing (what?!)--, his family, and reflection. The only thing I saw was Bosco’s name. I looked towards my friends. The newly minted doctor in philosophy of neuroscience just sat in silence. We were stunned. “Bosco?!”
Dr. Bosco Tjan passed away on Friday, Dec 2, 2016 and the hole he left behind is felt not only by his friends and family, but also by his many students and colleagues. Professionally, Bosco was a visionary. He served as the co-director of the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroimaging Center, taught as a professor of psychology and neuroscience, and ran his own lab investigating vision, specifically shapes and scenes. Personally, he was a coffee lover and cook, incredibly kind and helpful, and a family man.
My first foray with Bosco was in 2012, when I started my program in Neuroscience at the University of Southern California. My initial class as a graduate student was Bosco’s famous Psychology 555 course: “Introduction to functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging”. It came highly recommended, so I was excited to sit in our little conference room and listen to cautionary tales about bringing metal into the MRI room, alongside the physics behind the BOLD signal, and instructions on how to use FSL to analyze data. His course was challenging and served as my first taste into the world of functional neuroimaging. I loved everything about it! Bosco was an incredible teacher: he was patient, knowledgeable, didn’t mind explaining things multiple ways, and had an incredible (to me!) sense of humor. He was an amazing source of information, and on the rare occasion that he didn’t know the answer, Bosco would look up resources and direct you on the right path. Bosco went above and beyond to help students understand and apply concepts. He always had an open door (or email) policy and was the “go-to” person for many students and professors for questions regarding the scanner, visual tracking, or how fMRI works in general. As a member of my committee, Bosco was invaluable in answering questions about my experimental design: which sequence to use and how to deal with inconsistencies in my data. He took the time to develop my study with me, not just dictating what to do and how to do it--he wanted to make sure I understood each step. Many of our conversations casually started over a morning cup of espresso in the kitchen and continued on whiteboards in his office. Or in between sequences in the basement while I ran subjects. He was always testing, enhancing, learning. I am truly lucky to have had Bosco as a professor and committee member. His attitude towards science, education, and mentorship was something to try to emulate, though I doubt many of us can.
It was an honor, Bosco. Thank you for all that you did for our graduate program, our institute, and our university. May you rest in peace. Or, maybe, if you prefer, with the clicks and hums of the scanner in the background.
OHBM Communications Committee welcomes your comments, stories, and memories of Dr. Tjan. Please post these in the comments (upper right corner of post). You can read more about Dr. Tjan's life and work here.
BY KEVIN WEINER
Excerpt from OHBM Communications/Media Team article on Huff Post Science:
New puzzles for brain scientists
No matter how exciting the topic, your mind is bound to wander at some point when you’re sitting in a room for several hours listening to scientific presentations. This is exactly what happened to me during the meeting between the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM) in Geneva. As a history of science nerd, when my mind wandered, it wasn’t about what I’d be having for lunch or a new beer I might try after the meeting was over. Instead, my mind wandered to a 1927 headline from the New York Times I recently stumbled upon that read, ‘Human brain still puzzles scientists.’ I began to wonder what headlines would look like 100 years from now and how the conversations in that room were actively shaping the headlines of the future. Read more.
BY CYRIL PERNET
The second meeting of the OHBM Alpine Chapter, with participants from Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain, took place on November 25-26, 2016. Over 100 scientists spent the weekend in Salzburg discussing translational imaging and the applications of fMRI in the clinic. At the meeting, leading Alpine researchers discussed the clinical applications of MRI, such as fMRI in single patients, advancing presurgical applications in epilepsy, and diagnosing developmental abnormalities.
Cyril Pernet (CP): Could you tell us about the history of the Alpine OHBM Chapter?
Roland Beisteiner (RB): We started with functional MRI in 1992 at the Medical University of Vienna at the Department of Neurology. Interest spread throughout Austria and in 2004 we founded the Austrian Society for Functional MRI.
CP: Why did you decide to become an OHBM Chapter?
RB: Since the foundation of the Austrian Society, interest around functional MRI and clinical applications of new medical technologies grew continuously and collaborations with colleagues from Switzerland and Germany increased. The proposal from OHBM Council to form regional chapters was a perfect opportunity for us to reflect this regional growth.
CP: What are the benefits of becoming a Chapter?
RB: OHBM is a very well-known organization and it gave us immediate ‘brand’ recognition, increasing our visibility. Interestingly, this also attracted new members to OHBM.
CP: What is the mission of the Alpine Chapter?
RB: At its heart this is about scientific exchange and increase in collaborations oriented toward clinical research. We are however dedicated to have that exchange open not just to the clinicians but also to psychologists and methods-oriented people. Finally, we are also committed to education, and this annual symposium and our educational courses (e.g. regular courses on clinical functional imaging) are accredited for continuous medical education.
CP: To conclude this interview, could you tell us what do you see in the future of the Chapter?
RB: What I see immediately, is our next Alpine Chapter Symposium, Nov. 3-4, 2017 in Bern. Generally, it is our hope that we can push for greater visibility of translational imaging. We want to extend clinical applicability of brain mapping including new techniques, like brain stimulation. Beyond research on patient groups, this shall put these amazing technologies to use for the immediate benefits of patients in the clinic.
Further info on the OHBM Alpine Chapter meeting can be seen in these storified meeting details.
Follow us on Twitter: OHBMSciNews – the OHBM Alpine tweets were ‘storified’ by C Pernet: https://storify.com/CyrilRPernet/getting-started
The Organization of Human Brain Mapping is pleased to announce a new OHBM People’s Choice Abstract Award to be given to one team presenting their research during the 2017 OHBM Annual Meeting poster sessions in Vancouver. The goal of this award is to allow meeting attendees to highlight their favorite presentation and to bring the most popular abstract into the OHBM spotlight. Annual Meeting attendees will vote on their favorite (using in-app voting), and the team who receives the most votes from registered attendees will be awarded the People’s Choice Abstract Award. The first author of the winning team will receive the cash prize of $500 at OHBM 2017 Closing Ceremonies.
HOW IT WORKS
OHBM Annual Meeting attendees vote for their favorite abstract using the OHBM mobile app. Each attendee can vote for up to two abstracts, one during each of the two-day blocks (one vote during Monday/Tuesday session and one vote during Wednesday/Thursday session). Any duplicate votes from users or votes from unregistered users will be removed. The abstract with the highest number of votes from unique voters will be announced at the Closing Ceremony.
All abstracts presented at the OHBM Annual Meeting, as posters or oral presentations, are eligible for this award. No shows are disqualified from consideration.
For questions regarding the new People’s Choice Award, please contact OHBM at email@example.com.
BY NIKOLA STIKOV
One of the newest initiatives of the OHBM is the establishment of a replication award to highlight the Organization’s commitment to reproducibility and transparency in neuroimaging research. The OHBM Replication Award will recognize the best replication study of the past year. The 2017 award is generously supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
Continuing with the open science coverage on this blog, I interviewed Chris Gorgolewski at the Center for Reproducible Neuroscience at Stanford University, to discuss the rules and implications of this new initiative.
Nikola Stikov (NS): First of all, what is a replication study?
Chris Gorgolewski (CG): A replication study is a repetition of a published study procedure with minor changes to variables assumed not to be important for the measured phenomena (this depends on the experiment, but could include demographics, scanner model, visual stimuli delivery system, analysis strategy, etc.). Replication studies usually (but not always) have a larger sample size than the original study for appropriate statistical power, and are performed by a different team than the original study (but planning of a replication study can benefit from involvement of the original researchers). Even though minor changes between the original study and its replication are inevitable they should be minimized as much as possible.
NS: What about methodological replications? Could a study applying different data processing streams to the same data (in contrast to acquiring new data) be eligible for the award?
CG: Yes, such studies should be considered as a form of a replication and will be eligible for the award. Since there is a lot of variability in how important methodological replications vs traditional ones are, the impact of such submissions will have to be evaluated by the judges on a case by case manner.
NS: What are the criteria used to choose the best paper?
CG: Each paper will be evaluated according along two dimensions: quality of the replication attempt and importance of evaluated finding. There are several factors that can improve the quality of a replication study: preregistration (especially if the registration was first evaluated by the researchers who designed the original study), sample size (and thus statistical power), transparency (publication of code and data), and lack of conflicts of interest. The importance of the evaluated finding rests on the degree to which it answers an interesting and important question. For example, findings that are a basis for a whole new branch of neuroimaging, challenge existing models of cognition, or are basis for policy changes in context of mental health care should be considered more important and worthwhile replicating. Admittedly, the second criterion is very subjective, but we are confident that the jury will do a good job evaluating all of the submissions.
NS: So does every replication need to be preregistered and fully open?
CG: Not necessarily. We wouldn’t discredit studies that choose not be fully transparent (and not share code or data), or did not preregister their methods. After all, even a non-preregistered replication attempt with closed code and data is a valuable contribution to scientific knowledge. Having said that, if I was presented with two identically powered replication studies of which one was preregistered and shared data and the other did not, I would personally have greater trust in the more transparent of the two.
NS: You mentioned “replication attempt”. Are failed replications also eligible for the award?
CG: Absolutely yes! Replication studies are meant as an accumulation of knowledge, and both null as well as statistically significant results contribute to our understanding of a given phenomenon. For example a well powered failed replication challenging an important study can be very valuable in preventing the field from researching a “dead end”.
NS: Are researchers allowed to nominate their own paper or does someone else have to do it?
CG: Self-nominations are perfectly fine.
NS: How about old replication studies, are they eligible?
CG: Yes. For this year’s first edition (2016), there are no time restrictions in terms of recency. This might change in the following years (limiting the award just to papers published in the previous year).
NS: Is there enough time to submit for people that just found out about the award? Getting reviews and resubmitting revisions of a replication paper will take at least half a year.
CG: Preprints that did not yet undergo a formal peer review process are perfectly acceptable submissions for the replication award, so you don’t need to wait until your paper gets accepted. Furthermore the submission deadline has been pushed to 22nd of February 2017.
NS: Can scientists reuse old data collected in their lab to perform a replication study?
CG: Of course! In fact I expect most labs are sitting on a wealth of replication data that was never published. All it takes to be eligible for the OHBM replication award is to write it up as a preprint and apply.
NS: You said that for the award preprints are sufficient, but which journals are likely to accept such a study for publication?
CG: PloS, Frontiers and Nature Scientific Reports seem like good bets, as they do not use “impact” as a criterion of acceptance. NeuroImage: Clinical should also be happy to accept replication studies, given it made an explicit editorial call for them. Cortex supports a Registered Reports article type which guarantees publication of your results independent of the outcome of the experiment given they first accept your preregistration report. This mechanism might be very useful for replications (since writing a preregistration plan for a replication is easier than for a standard study). There are probably more journals happy to publish replications - you just need to try!
NS: How was the idea for the OHBM Replication Award conceived?
CG: It was proposed by Russell Poldrack, Jean-Baptiste Poline, David Kennedy, Thomas Nichols and myself.
NS: What is the process to nominate a paper for the award?
CG: Just send a link to the paper/preprint you are nominating together with a short paragraph justifying your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NS: Chris, thank you so much for answering so many questions about this new award. We look forward to seeing the impact of recognizing reproducible results in neuroimaging research!
You can find more information about the OHBM Replication Award here.
The Communications Committee of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping is beginning its second year and is looking for additional members. This is a great opportunity to become part of a vibrant and thriving committee that produces posts for the OHBM blog, articles for HuffPost Science, conducts video and email interviews with top brain researchers and uses social media to communicate that work to the brain mapping community.
The formation of this Committee was approved by the OHBM Council in 2015 with the primary goal of increasing the visibility and impact of members’ work within the OHBM community and to extend it to a broader audience. The Communications Committee is now seeking a few additional volunteers for a three year term. If you have experience writing, editing copy, social media, video, graphic design or website maintenance we hope you’ll consider becoming part of the Communications Committee. OHBM seeks to include a diversity members from a wide range of geographic locations, different experience levels, and encourages women and minorities to apply.
We welcome you to participate in this very important OHBM initiative. If interested, please complete the Call for Volunteers online form no later than Monday, November 28. To apply you must be a current member of OHBM (visit www.humanbrainmapping.org to renew your membership or become a member). Submitted applications will be presented to the Communications Committee leadership for consideration and selection.
If you have any questions, please contact Stephanie McGuire, Communications Manager at email@example.com.
Lancet Neurology calls DMCBH “the future of neuroscience,” and celebrated this new era of patient care and scientific discovery in its October 2014 issue. Leveraging the expertise of over 150 faculty members in brain research at UBC, SFU and UVic (including 28 Canada Research Chairs, 6 BC Leadership Chairs, 1 Canada Excellence Research Chair, and 7 donor-funded professorships in neuroscience) and the personalized, high-quality care provided by VCH, DMCBH is a provincial resource for clinical care for over 20,000 patients and their families per year.
We hope you’ll plan to attend the 2017 OHBM Annual Meeting for the valuable educational programs, keynotes and networking opportunities, but there will also be many opportunities to visit fantastic dining establishments, get out into nature for outdoor activities, learn about the history and culture of Canada and enjoy vibrant nightlife and entertainment options.
Stay tuned for more information about the student-run BrainMeOut initiative, which will make a return appearance in Vancouver, following its successful debut in Geneva.
BY EKATERINA DOBRYAKOVA
Excerpt from OHBM Communications/Media Team article on Huff Post Science:
At the end of June, I found myself through running the streets of Geneva with two other brain mappers--all three of us sweaty from trying to catch the bus. Even though I live in New Jersey and am used to muggy weather in the summer, I couldn’t help but recognize how humid it was. We nearly missed the bus that would take us to the World Health Organization (WHO) to talk about how the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM) and WHO can work together to improve international public health through brain research. Thankfully, we made it on board and were able to get on with the important work of the day.
On July 1st, 2016, I joined a diverse group of behavioral neurologists, radiologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists and public health professionals from around the world gathered in that building for a joint meeting between the WHO and OHBM. The WHO building opened its doors in 1966 and carries the stamp of time. Interestingly, we were all there to discuss something that could not have even been imagined in 1966 - applications of brain research to matters of public health. Read more.
BY NILS MUHLERT
What makes a successful international conference? Getting field-leading researchers to describe their work is of course key, but setting the stage (including hiring the venue, organising transport and arranging evening events) is equally important. As part of our OHBM 2016 insight series, we’ve provided views and highlights from those at the front of the stage - its keynote speakers (including Tim Behrens, Daniel Wolpert, Anissa Abi-Dargham and Nora Volkow) and special interest groups. Here, we look behind the curtain at the local organising team, those whose hard work fools you into thinking that organising an event on this scale is simple. No mean feat when you’re hosting 3,168 participants in one of the world’s most expensive countries!
The local organising committee (LOC) in Geneva was chaired by Christoph Michel, Professor of Neuroscience in the University of Geneva and a longtime attendee of OHBM. The LOC was greatly enhanced by the endeavours of a small group of local post-docs who, concerned that Geneva’s high costs might discourage those with tighter travel budgets, formed their own local organizing team, named BrainMeOut, to mitigate that problem. Their efforts provided students, postdocs and early career researchers with easy access to tasty, well-priced food and a chance to enjoy events hosted by this local BrainMeOut team: a varied mix of city tours, swing concerts, networking evenings and open air ping-pong contests (where – to my misfortune - my quiet German colleague revealed her former life as a Tischtennis-Bundesliga player). We speak to Christoph Michel and to Raphaël Thézé, co-director of the BrainMeOut events:
OHBM: I’m here with Dr. Christoph Michel, professor at the University of Geneva, and also chair of the OHBM local organising committee. Christoph, tell us about your experiences with OHBM.
Christoph Michel: I’ve been coming to OHBM since the beginning, its first meeting in Paris. I haven’t made it to all of them, but to most of them. And I’ve always wanted to host it here in Geneva, because I think it is a great opportunity to mark Geneva on the map of the neuroimaging community.
OHBM: What are your impressions from the meeting?
CM: It was fantastic – a real success. Most things ran smoothly. The executive office of OHBM has a lot of experience, which made hosting it easy to do. There were of course some challenges, mainly relating to hosting the conference slightly outside the city but, overall, I’d say it went OK. And we’ve had a lot of highlights, both scientifically and socially. I think the local neuroimaging community, particularly the younger generation, benefitted greatly from the meeting - be it through presenting their work, making contacts, showing the available research opportunities in Geneva, presenting the Masters and PhD programs, and so on.
OHBM: Anything you’re particularly proud of?
CM: We helped set up a symposium and meeting between the OHBM and the World Health Organisation. Making this contact possible was one of my main goals, since they’re based in Geneva. We organized a workshop at WHO after the meeting - it was extremely interesting and led to many ideas for future collaborations between the two organizations. It was great to see that the leaders of all international human brain projects participated and shared their ideas of how human brain research and the OHBM can contribute to public global health.
OHBM: And one last question – where would you like the next OHBM meeting to be held? We have a couple lined up but what would be your dream location?
CM: I think that it should dare to go once to South America, to increase the involvement of the South American neuroimagers.
OHBM: I second that! Thank you Christoph for joining us.
OHBM: How did BrainMeOut come about – who were the organisers, and how did they get in contact with the OHBM committee?
Brain Me Out: The name BrainMeOut – BMO for the insider – is actually inspired from the song “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand, and the intention behind it is conspicuous. The concept itself is the work of three neuroimaging-focussed graduate students from the University Of Geneva. At first Christoph Michel reached out for us to join the local organizing committee. He knew we had some experience with event organization in Geneva and that we had participated in multiple national and international meetings. He gave us the mission to make this OHBM meeting great. We knew from experience that the key to a successful meeting was the human contact and the networking opportunities, and we knew that Geneva was not an easy city to get around for the occasional visitor. So we devised a plan, BrainMeOut, where we would do most of the work upstream, and create several opportunities for participants to get together. We asked ourselves what kind of social experience we would want and expect from an international conference; mostly it was about getting to know the city without getting lost, connecting easily with fellow researchers from around the world, having a good time at night with labmates and making new acquaintances without having to think about it.
OHBM: Part of BrainMeOut’s success was the variety of events hosted throughout the OHBM meeting – which were your favourite events from this, and why?
BMO: The HeadQuarter (HQ) was definitely a hit. It acted as a node connecting the various activities and offering a regular, welcoming yet very lively meeting point through the week. It did most of the work to connect people. I was particularly fond of the photobooth on Tuesday night, which really broke the ice and allowed participants to go home with a memory of the evening.
OHBM: How did you find the experience of organising and hosting BrainMeOut? Did you get to meet any useful contacts through this?
BMO: Organizing BMO was thrilling. We had a lot of planning to do, we sought funding on our own, we managed big budgets, gathered a team and designed a communication strategy. We certainly learned a lot from that experience. Contact-wise, we met with the OHBM central committee, worked alongside the OHBM communication team and certainly developed a strong network in Geneva. One downside is that during the meeting itself we were generally too busy to actually make contact with other participants. Fortunately, we had a great team of volunteers to help us! It was like throwing a party with our friends, and we had a lot of fun doing it.
OHBM: What advice would you give someone who wanted to organise a similar event at future meetings?
BMO: Not long after the conference, one of the participants emailed us to say “it was like having a personal travel agency…” and that’s what future committees should keep in mind while organizing BMO. From the start, it has to be managed by local brain imagers, familiar with the host city and able to deal with the planning and booking. An extended funding campaign is also critical to offer a greater diversity of activities, and to keep the expenses (i.e. drinks and food) as low as possible for OHBM attendees. In terms of activities, we are convinced that the key to success is, on the one hand, having a clear and informative website and an information booth at the conference venue, and, on the other hand, to hold a central HQ connecting the activities through the week. With more time, or more resources, we would probably have focused on offering more and even crazier group activities to encourage total strangers to bond and maybe later share their science around a drink at the HQ.
OHBM: Thanks Raphaël for your insight, the BMO team’s hard work, and a great set of events!
Please remember that the abstract deadline for OHBM 2017 is slightly earlier this year, on Thursday the 15th of December. See you in Vancouver for more science, socialising and BrainMeOut activities!
BY NIKOLA STIKOV
In May 2016, OHBM announced the Open Science Special Interest Group (SIG). One of the SIG founders, Cameron Craddock, wrote an informative blog post about the mission of SIG and its potential. In the post Cameron illustrated the benefits and distinctions of open science by drawing upon the free beer vs. free speech analogy. The OHBM blog team felt that ‘beer vs. speech’ is jargon that needs explaining. Twitter thought otherwise. This made us aware that the open science voices are sometimes difficult to hear outside of their own echo chamber, especially in the noisy world of brain mapping. Cameron removed the reference to speech/beer from his feature, and we agreed to pick up the conversation with Samir Das and Pierre Bellec, two free speech and beer enthusiasts from Montreal.
Nikola Stikov: Can you please explain the difference between ‘free as in speech’ and ‘free as in beer’?
Pierre Bellec: The analogy “free beer” and “free speech” comes from the open-source software community. Free as in beer, or “gratis”, means you don’t need to pay to use the software. Free as in speech, or “libre”, means you can re-use freely the software in new projects without direct approval from the authors. Free software is generally both gratis and libre.
Samir Das: The “Free” concept is not limited to software. More recently, we have focused on ideas such as Open Science. We are embarking on a new mission at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) to build open science, but defining what 'open science' is can be tricky. The MNI is the first institute to go “Open”. What this means is that the institute won’t worry about patenting ideas and techniques, and will make acquired data freely available to the scientific community at large.
NS: So is ‘free as in speech’ always better than ‘free as in beer’?
PB: For software, people don’t care that much that it is free as in beer. At the end of the day, if you really want to use a product, you will find a way. The fact that a software is free as in speech, though, has turned out to be incredibly powerful for innovation. Android is based on Linux, a prominent open-source project. Tesla autodrive is also based on Linux. You watch a video on the plane? Linux. Robots going to Mars? Linux. Linux is so robust and so flexible, it blows away anything that a private company could produce.
SD: Free doesn’t mean you can’t profit from it. Some people make a lot of money, even though many people still consider it a volunteer service.
PB: Exactly, in free software, people work together on projects that are difficult to do alone. But you can still add a layer that is unique, and you can sell the product as a whole. Apple built its OS from unix, they did not reinvent the wheel.
NS: Does sharing apply not only to software but also to data?
PB: Yes. A paper is not a very reusable unit, it is hard to build on it. There are details missing in your typical manuscript, plus we are an experimental field, and if you don’t have access to the data, there’s not much you can do with [the paper]. So ‘free as in speech’ in the context of science means that instead of sharing just papers, we should also share reusable units. Those units could be code, data, tools, workflows… I believe that hiring and promotion committees should consider all of these units when evaluating somebody’s work.
SD: By doing this we will reduce redundancy, waste, cost, because we will have more data available, and governments will spend less money. Even from a self-serving point of view, there is evidence to suggest that if you go open, you might get more collaborators, more citations, more funding, and ways to make money without violating open-science concepts. Finally, this makes it possible for other communities to use the same data in ways that [our] community could never even imagine, so that is very important.
NS: Tal Yarkoni published a paper about the next generation platform for science publishing, in which, on top of open-access and data sharing, he recommended preprint archiving and Reddit-like peer review. Do you agree with these recommendations?
PB: Open review is exciting, but I have only limited hands-on experience with it. I recently published my name as a reviewer of an opinion piece in Frontiers, then I uploaded my review on Publons.com. Publons is a free website where you can see my entire review history. I definitely enjoyed that process, it is useful to document what generally happens “under the hood”. What I haven’t done yet is take an hour to write a summary of a paper where I wasn’t a reviewer. I want to try that out in the future.
SD: This is the future for sure, but I am not entirely sure about every nuance and the exact details of the outcome. I don’t have a strong opinion about post-publication peer-review, but if that is possible, I suppose it is a good thing. More transparency can help with the current reproducibility crisis in research. However, when it comes to preprint archiving, I feel like there is something to be said about due process. When we collect data for a study, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to release it immediately; we are not done yet. Little embargos so you can finish your planned work might be in order. I am for a reasonable amount of process.
NS: So when should the sharing happen?
PB: I fully agree with Samir, I don’t think it is realistic today to tell people that everybody should share their data as soon as it is collected. Because you are going to scare people. At the end of the day, I believe in most cases embargos are not useful, and that ten years down the road few people will still use them.
SD: If [the data] is organized while you are collecting it, with proper standards, then it won’t be so much work to share it in a few years. One problem is that a lot of this work is currently done by contract researchers that are not faculty, and there is no long-term career path for them in academia. You get a grant for a couple of years, and then everybody scatters, or they go to industry. Universities need to shape up and do more. The current model is extremely wasteful and contrary to the mission of science - it takes a fair bit of time to train people, and losing the great amount of knowledge acquired is particularly harmful to the research ecosystem.
Pierre Bellec is a professor of computer science at the University of Montreal and CRIUGM, where he develops fMRI connectivity biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease. He currently chairs the OHBM Open Science Special Interest Group, and is also involved in organizing the OHBM Hackathon.
Nikola: A word or two about the Open Science SIG activities. Pierre, you are one of the organizers of the NeuroBureau hackathons, what do you do there?
PB: At the beginning [of a hackathon], people pitch projects, little teams are formed, and then people sit down and work. The idea is to take those 5 minutes during conferences, when you meet somebody, you have a coffee, you have an exciting idea but you need to go back to the talks. So the idea is to take that little chunk of time and stretch it to the length of the conference.
NS: Do you need to know how to code to be at a hackathon?
PB: That is a common misconception. The hackathons come from the tech community initially, so people associate them with coding, but we try to gather a different kind of community, and we see all kinds of people coming to the hackathon and having a great time.
Samir Das is the Software Manager for the McGill Centre of Integrative Neuroscience, and system architect for the LORIS database. His goal is to facilitate technological solutions towards difficult data management and processing problems in neuroscience and beyond.
NS: Samir, what is your role at OHBM?
SD: So, I wear a lot of different hats in my life, but at OHBM, I consider myself Pierre Bellec’s sidekick. The point of it is that we are all trying to further a common goal, to do things like open science and data sharing.
NS: And as part of that you organize parties.
SD: I know it sounds weird to say that parties are part of the open science mission, but communication and collaboration [are facilitated by] social events, whether at a hackathon level, or at a big party. It is amazing how much stuff can be solved over a beer.
NS: The next meeting is in Vancouver, have you already planned the venue?
SD: I haven’t thought that far ahead, but I already have an idea of how it could be. I am picturing a beach... I feel like that will facilitate even more science. :)
Thanks to Sarabeth Fox for video recording.
Nikola Stikov: So I'm here with Kirstie Whitaker, a post-doc at University of Cambridge and she agreed to talk to us about her experiences with OHBM. How long have you been coming to this conference?
Kirstie Whitaker: This is only my third conference, but my first one was in 2009. So I haven't been able to travel to all the amazing places that OHBM has been over the years, but it's lovely to be here in Geneva.
NS: Wonderful. You're very active with the Hackathon, so can you tell us a little bit about your personal experience?
KW: I came up with a project that I thought would be meaningful and I pitched it at the beginning and I got teammates that came and joined me and they just kicked it out of the park. It became so much better than I ever thought that it could be when I came up with the idea. So it was wonderfully inspiring, it was great to meet the people that I slightly hero-worshipped and brand new people, and it sort of flowed out into the conference.
NS: I know you're very passionate about diversity issues within the society. So have you seen any progress and do you have any suggestions about what should be done to bring more diversity at our meetings?
KW: I think that the keynotes were really beautifully gender-balanced. We had three women and four men, which is great. It's lovely to see [them] and all seven of them were excellent. I think I was a little bit disappointed that the prizes all went to white men. I felt like that was maybe not the greatest message that could be given. But what was really lovely was the number of people that stood up at the Town Hall which we had the last night of the conference and mentioned this. So the fact that people are aware of it and people are thinking about it brings it to the fore. I think it holds it in the mind of not just the committee, but also the people who are voting for everyone. I think what was called for in the Town Hall and which I would love to see going forward is more people nominating women, people of color, and people who've had non-traditional career paths, bringing forward these bright stars, to nominate them so they can be celebrated next year.
While women may be underrepresented in Council this year, women scientists Drs. Lara Boyd and Doris Doudet are the Chair and Co-Chair, respectively, of the 2017 Local Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2017 meeting, and AmanPreet Badhwar is the Co-Chair of the OHBM Student and Post-doc Special Interest Group (SIG).
Randy Gollub: We're here today to talk a little bit about the thoughts you have and the visions for what would like to see the SIG do in the next coming year.
AmanPreet Badhwar: Our mandate as the Student and Post-doc SIG is to provide opportunities for networking for trainees, both within the trainee group as well as with other young or senior scientists. To date, our flagship event has been the OHBM Monday Night Social, which we co-organized with the NeuroBureau.
RG: And have you a vision for how things might grow and develop in the future, about how OHBM can help you and your organization?
AB: Definitely. We're thinking of expanding to more than just the Monday night social because it is only one day of the year. We'd like the SIG to be more involved throughout the year. One of the things I do want to organize for next year's OHBM is a symposium to help trainees transition into the next phase of their career, and I'm especially referring to post-doc at this stage because that's really the hardest transition. A symposium on that topic would be very helpful. The other idea that I've been discussing with OHBM is to have, during the meeting, a room dedicated for mentoring, where for certain a period of the day, perhaps an hour or so, we have a rotating group of scientists, either young researchers or more established researchers, who the students can have conversations with and get some tips on how to move forward with their careers.
Check out the two videos to hear more about how these young women scientists are getting involved in the OHBM and how they are encouraging their colleagues and peers to become more engaged.
The OHBM has taken very seriously the call from members to make enhancing diversity an important goal for the society. In response, the OHBM leadership has recently created the Diversity/Gender Task force, lead by Co-Chairs Tonya White and Angela Laird to address issues of gender and minority representation. The goal of this task force is to increase awareness of these issues and identify ways that women and underrepresented scientists can be promoted at the OHBM to ensure balanced representation. If you are interested in volunteering for this task force, please complete the application form before October 21. Interested individuals must be current members of the OHBM. You can renew your membership at www.humanbrainmapping.org. All submissions will be reviewed with Task Force selections made by the Chairs of the Diversity and Gender Task Force.
In the meantime, the call for proposals for Educational Courses and Symposia for the 2017 Vancouver meeting was recently announced. I urge all of our OHBM community to make a special effort to include a balanced number of women scientists of all ages in their proposals!
BY THE KOREAN SOCIETY FOR HUMAN BRAIN MAPPING
The function and anatomy of the human brain are the basis of debates related to the inner workings of the human mind and body. Before the arrival of brain imaging technology, ethical dilemmas hindered neuroscientists who wished to conduct scientific studies on humans. Fortunately, neuroimaging techniques such as MRI, PET and SPECT have opened a new chapter in brain mapping. With the opening of “A New Window into the Human Brain” as Victor H. Fischer argued in 1962, researchers have been able to investigate not only human brain physiology and connectivity, but also its functionality, such as emotion and cognition, as well as numerous mental health disorders.
To keep pace with this emerging field of research, South Korea started its first society of brain imaging researchers, the Korean Society for Human Brain Mapping, or KHBM, in 2002. Given that modern human brain mapping utilizes cutting edge information technology (IT), the rapid development of the IT industry in Korea facilitated the early development of the KHBM. The Korean government promoted research and development in the IT industry early on in order to increase Korea’s share of the international information and communication technology market. This timely advance allowed for a positive feedback loop, in which the investment strategy in a variety of IT fields enhanced prompt industrial growth. In 2013, the Korean IT industry alone represented 30.9% of manufactured industrial products, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in comparison to 13.6% in 1997. At the same time, the biotechnology industry increased its share of the GDP by a factor of 12.7, from ₩0.59 trillion in 1997 to ₩7.51 trillion in 2013. Such statistics clearly illustrate the rise in the importance of medical technology in Korea.
The KHBM encompasses virtually all active Korean human brain researchers, including medical doctors, medical engineers, psychologists, and more, in order to encourage the study of brain dysfunctions, including those specific to Koreans. In addition, the KHBM aims to broaden the scope of brain studies by fostering information sharing among experts, while promoting improvements in brain mapping technology. For instance, one of the earliest topics of discussion at the KHBM conference in 2004 was the production of a standard Korean human brain map.
Recent topics covered at the KHBM conferences span a wide range of issues. For example, some researchers reported on medical issues, such as the localization of lesions involved in neuropsychiatric disorders using brain imaging technology and the effective use of statistical probabilistic anatomical maps. Other researchers focused on technology-related issues, including the effective use and differences among PET, MEG, and fMRI when investigating a variety of neurological disorders, and on the creation of an artificial cognitive system, based on the identified sensory regions of the brain. These studies are made possible by employing brain imaging technology to visualize the functional connectivity of the brain in vivo.
The members of the KHBM emphasize the necessity of new development and expansion of technology-based medical engineering expertise to improve the precision of medical apparatuses. This common goal of young neuroscientists and clinical researchers in South Korea motivates the theme of OHBM 2018, “Mapping the Interactions.” The theme not only embodies systematic efforts to create connections and develop mutual goals among researchers who study electrophysiology, metabolism, brain function and anatomy, but also epitomizes the determination of KHBM to promote interactions between theoretical research and clinical applications, between academia and the public, and between developed and developing nations.
The 2018 OHBM meeting will take place at the COEX Convention Center, located at the heart of Seoul. Seoul is well-known for its mixture of traditional and contemporary Korean culture. One of the most renowned examples of this fusion is Insa-dong, where artists display their creative works in an environment surrounded by traditional architecture. This vibrant city will provide a backdrop for the creative energy of the OHBM as it brings together researchers from all over the world.
The Korean Human Brain Mapping community cordially invites you to take part in the OHBM 2018 meeting at Seoul, to engage with other neuroscientists, to form connections, and to share and discuss our knowledge and passion for human brain research.
BY PANTHEA HEYDARI
Figuring out the right methods to conduct fMRI analyses can be a full time job. Most recently, I spent countless hours trying to determine the best way to do a Region of Interest (ROI) analysis on my imaging data. Usually, the scene plays out like this: Me sitting in uncomfortable office chair, eyes glued to the screen, fingers tapping, sometimes late at night, but mostly in the early AM hours (I’m more of a morning person) and always with piping hot coffee. I’m clicking on side links, opening tabs upon tabs and at some point my hair goes into a bun as I start frantically flipping through past notebooks, looking for notes that describe my subject’s stroke lesions. I am contemplating using ROI masks to remove the stroke lesions in order to understand the remaining brain activity. Errr, maybe I should clarify this image (and minimize those distracting Reddit and YouTube windows).
I’m on the hunt for tutorials about fMRI ROI analysis and there’s a lot to learn.
My particular thesis project investigates how individuals with stroke engage the Action Observation Network (AON) during observation, execution, and imitation of hand and foot actions. I’ve mostly been running whole brain analyses but today, I want to look at specific activity patterns in the pre-motor cortex, inferior frontal gyrus, and the posterior parietal lobule.
Since I’m not sure which package I want to use for my analysis, I start out on the NITRC home page. I need to consider that my subjects have lesions and use this as a keyword to narrow my search. Through the Resources feature of NITRC, I compare packages such as Mango, MarsBaR, and FSL. Which software is better suited for my types of analysis? Which is better supported? Which matches my particular needs?
NITRC-R offers me the ability to compare software and determine which package is best able to serve my needs.
· supports a variety of data formats and operating systems
· features fairly intuitive ROI editing and surface rendering
· allows for manual drawing of ROIs so I (or my minions…errr, I mean undergrads) can be specific about which voxels to select, but this may also increase rater variability
· is an added toolbox for SPM with an external homepage that features great step-by-step tutorials
· has easy to read instructions on how to define a functional ROI, extract the data, and run analysis through the Matlab console
· allows me to pre-define my ROIs or look at which voxels are active before selecting that as part of my ROI
· is a popular tool for looking at functional MRI results
· is great for tractography and relatively easy to use
· allows me to draw or load ROIs and can be exported into other packages, if desired
For these packages, NITRC shows me user ratings, support availability, development status, and documentation. I am concerned about reproducibility of results and how often these packages are used by other researchers. I am also interested in the availability of forums for my questions. For analysis, my top priority is being able to draw the ROIs myself and edit it if the automatic size is not what I prefer. These are factors I use in making my decision.
NITRC has consolidated information about resources and various software packages into a user-friendly and easily accessible site, so that I can compare packages in terms of priorities for my research. After assessing this information as well having open discussions with lab-mates about our project’s focus, I decide to go with FSL. I’ve been using FSL for prior work, so this makes sense in terms of logistics, but I also appreciate FSL’s ROI extraction tools and ability to control my regions. Lucky for me, NITRC has linked to sites for downloads and external resources of my winning choice. Easy enough, right?! All of this leaves me with much more free time. . .to spend online.
Interested in using NITRC for your analysis needs? Or, have additional questions on Best Practices in Data Analysis and Sharing (COBIDAS)? Take a look! As always, feedback and comments welcome and encouraged!
BY EKATERINA DOBRYAKOVA
Today, we're talking to David Poeppel, finding out about the differences between animal and human communication systems, his role in developing models of language processing, and in peeling away the 'speechyness' of speech. Dr. Poeppel is a Professor of Psychology at the New York University and Director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt, Germany. As one of the OHBM 2016 keynote speakers, Dr. Poeppel discussed how research in the neurobiology of language has developed over the last 20 years. We took the opportunity to find out more about his research on speech perception and psychophysics.
Ekaterina Dobryakova: To start, I wondered why you decided to study language and, specifically, speech perception?
David Poeppel: Well, it's easy to want to study language because it's what makes us “us”. It’s the most convenient and compelling feature that we have. If we didn't have that, we couldn’t have this conversation. There are endless vitriolic debates about how similarly animals communicate with each other, so it's deeply fascinating. How can we understand anything? How can we talk? If you ever take a class in linguistics, it’s like opening the curtains – you suddenly understand something you didn't think could be studied by sciences, because if you take a language class, let's say, in middle school or high school, they drown you with minutia in a very boring way and they try to take all the joy out. We've all taken second language French or Spanish in high school--oh my God, you know, what a nightmare--but if you suddenly think of it as a problem for sciences, it becomes a completely different kind of thing.
ED: You mentioned animal communication. How would you say our human communication through language is similar to non-language communication between animals?
DP: That is a good, hard, deep question for which we have no good answer. Animals are at the periphery, using the apparatus we have, the input systems and the output systems. We can learn a lot from studying animal communication systems. But there are certain attributes of human language that are just quite different, and for which we have no compelling animal model. So, some of the things we study are birdsongs or gestural communication. And those are wonderful important additions to our knowledge. But there are certain attributes of being a speaker of the language as a human that are unusual and that includes the peculiarly structured and complicated vocabulary.
ED: What is one of the most important projects that you are focusing on in your lab and how is it relevant to society?
DP: My laboratory focuses on basic science. That is, basic questions about the organization of perceptual systems, the auditory system and how we process language. We don't build products, diagnoses, therapeutic interventions. But of course the long term goal is that the insights we bring will help in all of these issues: for group communication, diagnosis, stroke, disease or rehabilitation, developmental disorders, you name it. So some of the work we've done has some very interesting and practical implications for developmental speech disorders. Max Planck has a good one-liner: ‘The application has to be preceded by basic insight’. I think this is very right: to really try to understand the system and its parts, and how they interact before you build the thing. You know, you want me to test the stuff before I give you a pill.
Now, I think, we're beginning to enter the age of maturity, where we can celebrate the amazing tools we have and the techniques and analytic approaches we have, and we can start to feel a bit critical about our own research.
ED: What would you say is your most surprising finding?
DP: The most surprising finding is that we ever find anything! That's why we're at this OHBM 2016 meeting. One of the remarkable things of the last 20 or 30 years is the astonishing technical development, the devices that we all use. This is quite a remarkable achievement. I remember when I was a graduate student and I read the first papers on imaging, some of which were actually on language, I was both simultaneously excited and appalled. And it really stimulated me and made me very passionate about the stuff. But notice that until 20 years ago we were not able to do any of the things we're now addressing. It was inconceivable. Let's say there was the age of fascination, the age of growth. Now, I think, we're beginning to enter the age of maturity, where we can celebrate the amazing tools we have and the techniques and analytic approaches we have, and we can start to feel a bit critical about our own research.
So here are two things that I've worked on a lot in my lab, both of which, I naively hope, have some value: One is really questions about the structural organization of the brain. So with one of my close colleagues, Greg Hickok from Irvine, for many years we've developed a functional and anatomical model, pretty widely known as the dual stream model of language processing, which admittedly we stole straight from the visual system. We know a lot about the visual system and its anatomical physiological foundations, and some of those ideas struck us as potentially useful for the language system.
The second thing is the work that I've been focusing on for a number of years on neurophysiology and there, primarily, I’ve been using magnetoencephalography, MEG. It’s the technique I’ve begun to obsess about the last few years, primarily because perceptual processing and language processing is super fast.
ED: What is your biggest dream in research?
DP: Maybe your dreams get more modest as you cross into the precarious years of middle age. Of the many dreams I have for my labs, one that I'm particularly obsessing about right now is: What does it mean to store your words. Those are sort of at the intersection of everything. There are a hundred thousand things stored in your memory in a way that they can be listened to, spoken, read, signed. That means that the encoding of that is extremely complicated and subtle.
ED: What do you think is the coolest finding in the neuroimaging of language?
DP: I'd have to say all of my own [laughs]. I'll tell you one that I care about right now and I think is cool: there continues to be a long debate about specialization in the brain. Let's take speech perception. Speech perception is the transformation of acoustic information (so something hits your ear) into some code that's relatively abstract and that interfaces with linguists. Now, for 50 years there's been a very vigorous debate if that is a special mechanism or is it a generic mechanism. So, is speech perception merely a species of hearing, or is it actually something that deals with particular functions? And so, last year, in a very elaborate series of fMRI experiments in my lab, we tackled this question one more time, trying to really nail down the extent to which there is specialization, in part, building on our dual stream model. We predicted that some very specific chunks of cortex, particularly, aspects of the superior temporal gyrus and superior temporal sulcus are not just generic auditory analyzers but are specialized for speech. That doesn't mean that entire area is specialized, but that means that there are populations of cells there that really deal with that kind of signal. So we went to great effort to make stimuli which could selectively peel away the speech-yness of signal and see can you find an area in your head that has the right sensitivity for speech and the right specificity. That was the kind of an experiment that was not just one experiment but 10. But at the end, it is pretty satisfying, because you feel like you really nailed it. I think, we can say pretty conclusively, that there is a high degree of specialization in a particular area of the brain. That's kind of cool because it shows that you can take a pretty innovative technique like functional MRI and answer a classical question.
ED: Many thanks!
Prof Poeppel’s keynote speech on ‘New Directions in the Neurobiology of Language’ will soon be available to view on the OHBM OnDemand portal. Keep checking for this and other great talks from OHBM 2016.
Thanks to Sarabeth Fox for video recording.
BY EKATERINA DOBRYAKOVA
The Organization for Human Brain Mapping hosted an exciting lecture on June 30th, 2016 with Dr. Anissa Abi-Dargham who presented her work pertaining to the topography of dopamine alteration in schizophrenia through the use of PET imaging.
Anissa Abi-Dargham is a Professor of Psychiatry and Radiology at CUMC, Columbia University, and New York State Psychiatric Institute, where she directs the Division of Translational Imaging. Dr. Abi-Dargham is a pioneer in PET neuroimaging, beginning her research in the field of dopamine transmission in schizophrenia in the 1990s. Her research has resulted in seminal findings that explain the complex alterations of dopamine transmission in schizophrenia and the impact these alterations have on clinical symptoms, cognition and response to treatment.
Ekaterina Dobryakova: What motivated you to go into your particular area of research?
Anissa Abi-Dargham: I went to medical school to become a psychiatrist and study psychosis. Out of all brain disorders psychosis seemed the most extreme to me and the most devastating on people’s lives. Brain imaging, especially molecular imaging, seemed to be a useful approach to get one step closer to the underlying “brain biology” that relates to psychosis. When I started there was much interest in dopamine in schizophrenia so I did some of these studies with my colleagues and one finding led to the next question and next study. Now we have greater understanding of the complexities of this system in schizophrenia.
ED: If you weren't talking to brain mappers or scientists, how would you describe your most proud scientific accomplishment?
AA: It must be the study where I estimated amounts of dopamine (a transmitter in the brain used between nerve cells to transmit signals) and compared patients with schizophrenia and controls. To do so I had to remove most if not all dopamine in the brain (by giving a treatment that stops new synthesis or production of dopamine for 48 hours, this is called a depleted state) and then compared the baseline scan (before depletion) to the depleted scan to derive how much dopamine was removed, thus inferring how much dopamine was present at baseline.
ED: If you were speaking to a non-scientist, how would you describe your research and what you do for a living?
AA: The brain is a complicated and intricate super computer that remains like a black box. It is difficult to understand its normal functioning, much less its dysfunctional function in brain disorders. I use imaging techniques to get at some of these questions.
ED: What do you think are the most pressing issues in neuroimaging for your area of interest? For the field in general?
AA: Technology, funding, collaborations: we need to develop better tools, that are safe to use and not invasive so we can image the complexity of the brain. We need participants in research and multi site collaborations to have enough power to address the variability across human subjects, and funding to do all that.
ED: What do you think is the future of neuroimaging for basic research? For translational research and application?
AA: Imaging can serve as an ideal translational tool to understand and link the effects of genes onto cells, circuits an behavior. Animal models can provide an illustration of genes’ effects which can be searched for in humans. So imaging can bridge all these multi-levels of investigation across species.
ED: When you first started out, what was the most inspiring/motivating paper you read? How about the same question, but in the last 5 years?
AA: Tough question because there were / are too many. An inspiring one was that of Surmeier and Gerfen summarizing the circuitry involving direct and indirect pathways in the striatum, I often read it and re-read it.
In the last 5 years I would say some of the main papers marking major advances in the field, for example the genetics findings in schizophrenia published in Nature 2014. But others too, it is really hard to pick just one…
ED: What should the non-expert be wary of when reading about brain mapping articles in the lay press?
AA: Since imaging is very technical it is difficult for the non-expert to judge if a study is methodologically sound. That is the biggest issue. Another is small sample sizes and hyper inflated results. In general findings need to be replicated for one to start to believe them.
BY: OHBM BLOG TEAM
At the recent OHBM Annual Meeting in Geneva, we encountered an interesting variety of ways that people both chronicled their personal experience at the meeting and engaged with the material of sessions attended. Many people vigorously took notes, others live-tweeted or posted photographs of slides and presenters online, but one of the most unique examples we discovered was a meeting attendee who was live-sketching session speakers and posting them to instagram.
The live-sketching artist, Roselyne Chauvin, is a PhD Candidate and founder of Cogni' Junior and lives in the Netherlands. When asked about how she started doing this type of drawing, Chauvin replied "Well, I do a lot of popularization of science for children (cognijunior.org) so a lot of non-scientists/teachers are following me on social media. I thought live-sketching the conference was a nice way to show that researcher meetings are not boring and, in general, to fill the gap between the general public and us. In the meantime, I discovered that it helps me to keep focus between all those amazing talks and to remember more of them. It's also saying to scientists that can't make it and want to catch some glimpses of it via twitter: you are not forgotten. Not everyone can fly to Geneva, right?"
The images below are from keynote lectures, educational courses, oral sessions and symposia. Think you know some of these speakers? Recognize material you learned in an OHBM session? See how many sketches you can identify.
OHBM - What is it that interests you about neuroimaging?
William Seeley (WS) - Neuroimaging has the potential to address three key issues in neurodegeneration research. First, brain imaging can tell us when and where neurodegeneration begins in living patients. This critical information provides the “treasure maps” we can use to guide our search for the cellular-molecular mechanisms of disease within the right neuroanatomical context. Second, functional imaging can help us understand changes in network physiology underlying patient symptoms. Finally, the dawn of “connectomic” imaging has allowed us to test competing models of network-based disease progression.
OHBM - What difficulties have you faced balancing a research and clinical career? What benefits has it brought?
WS - My clinical life frames and motivates everything we do in research, and I continue to be impressed by how much clinical science can teach us about healthy brain organization. For me, the major challenges relate to time and not having enough of it to do everything I would like to do in my career. Overwhelmingly, though, my life as a clinician has added great meaning to my life as a researcher.
OHBM - What draws you to OHBM and how does it differ from other similar, large conferences?
WS - I’ve been coming to OHBM for about 10 years and I keep coming back because of the enthusiasm of the membership for this field. It feels like a cohesive group of people - they each bring a different perspective and a different set of tools. It’s also a good place to learn about those tools – the very front line of methodological advances is reported here first. That always makes it exciting.
OHBM – In your keynote talk you laid out a number of different variants of the dementias, then focused on frontotemporal dementia. The dementias vary based on both behavior and symptoms. Could networks and the connectivity between networks aid differential diagnoses? Do you envision scanning patients in order to distinguish between different types of dementias?
WS - Neuroimaging of brain structure and function can help us refine our assessment of a patient’s clinical syndrome. In my talk you heard me discuss syndromic diagnoses and pathological diagnoses as distinct and separate concepts. Structural and functional imaging can help with syndrome refinement, but when it comes to the underlying neuropathological cause of that syndrome, I think those strategies are going to fall just a bit short. Take the example of behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), it has 15 different neuropathological causes – I doubt we could use neuroimaging alone to decide which of those 15 underlying histopathologies is the actual cause of a patient’s bvFTD. It’s more likely that we’ll need a molecular technique, whether that’s biomarker analysis from spinal fluid or molecular imaging using PET scanning, to decide which of those various underlying histopathologies is the cause. Alternatively we’ll use some kind of a merger, where the structural and functional imaging refines the syndrome to the point where the differential diagnosis gets shorter. Then we use molecular imaging to nail the final diagnosis.
OHBM - Some of your recent research centres on selective vulnerability. Can you tell us what this is, and why it might be relevant to many neurological conditions?
WS - All neurological diseases are selective in some way. In neurodegenerative disease, we can see that progression occurs in a selective manner that is governed by network connections. Where (in which cell type), how (in what manner), and most importantly why a disease begins where it does remains far more mysterious, but may be a key to developing early-stage treatment or prevention.
OHBM – What would it take to get to the point where we have screening for different vulnerabilities? Would that goal be a priority in the absence of effective neuroprotective recommendations – or are effective recommendations available?
WS – That’s already the reality in Alzheimer’s dementia. Alzheimer’s is a common disease. You can screen a healthy older population for amyloid-beta deposition using molecular imaging and then triage patients for experimental treatment trials based on that result. To imagine doing that for some of the less common dementias, such as frontotemporal dementia, is a little more daunting because of the lower population prevalence. FTD has a population prevalence of about 1 in 5000 in those aged over 45, so it would have to be either a very inexpensive test or a very powerful therapy to justify that kind of screening program.
OHBM – It’s been proposed that the salience network may switch activity between the default mode and the central executive networks – and impaired switching has been hypothesized to play a role in a number of psychiatric disorders. Do you see that playing a role in the frontotemporal dementias?
WS – I don’t think we really know the answer, as I don’t think there’s been a study yet that went straight after the switching concept. From a phenomenological standpoint the patients are pretty poor switchers. Sometimes they get stuck in ruts and perseverate on the same behavioral response over and over. Other times they fail to switch in other ways when switching would be helpful. Sometimes they switch too much, where they’re distractedly moving from task to task as opposed to finishing. I do think that behavioral switching is a deficit – whether that correlates with network switching is an open question and I think it’ll be an important one to address at some stage.
OHBM - What do you see as the next major goals of neuroimaging in dementia research?
WS - Neuroimaging can play a critical role by providing short-term interval biomarkers of disease progress for use in early-stage drug development. To accomplish this goal may require that we develop better models to predict progression, and then use those models as a way of assessing whether a drug has had a meaningful impact.
OHBM: Thank you Prof Seeley!
Prof Seeley's keynote talk on 'Network-based neurodegeneration' will soon be available to view on the OHBM OnDemand portal. Keep checking for this and other great talks from OHBM 2016.
Thanks to Sarabeth Fox for video recording.