“Bringing Great Minds Together and Signaling to OHBM in Rome”, Human Brain Mapping Israel 1st Conference
Israel is a small country, approximately 400 km long north to south and 25 km width at its narrowest point. Despite its small size, Israel is home to six large universities and this year hosted the 1st Human Brain Mapping conference. This inaugural conference aimed to bring together neuroimaging researchers from each of these universities, to share ideas and methods. The conference unites those working on a number of different modalities - as was shown by the diversity in over 70 talks and posters, with research using MRI, fNIRS, MEG, EEG and brain stimulation, studying populations across the lifespan.
The conference covered a wide array of computational tools to analyze neuroimaging data (deep learning algorithms, multi-variate pattern analysis, variability quenching etc), unique sequences for structural mapping, and applications of the above methods to clinical and healthy populations. Researchers presented studies on the therapeutic effect of TMS, for example, to reduce alcoholism symptoms, as well as other brain stimulation techniques such as tDCS, multi-unit electrodes, and deep TMS.
As a preview for the OHBM conference in Rome, a special session was dedicated to the developing brain. This session focused on functional MRI studies during reading and screen exposure in children. The researchers discussed the neural networks related to changes in the use of visual and language-related regions during development with the exposure to reading (Dr Bitan), the critical changes in neural circuits supporting memory along development (Dr Ofen) and the “competition” on these neural networks while exposed to screens in childhood (Dr Horowitz-Kraus). The session also highlighted the importance of mother-child joint attention for social and emotional development and the effect this interaction has on babies’ neural activity coherence patterns during rest (Dr Frenkel). These topics were expanded in the Neurobehavioral basis of Development session, chaired by Luna Beatriz in OHBM in Rome. In this session Niko Dosenbach demonstrated exciting new fMRI analysis techniques that could estimate functional connections within and between neural networks at the single subject level in children. Using this technique, he was able to reveal several networks, previously seen at group-level, including cingulo-opercular and fronto-parietal networks. His talk was followed by fascinating presentations by Drs Satterthwaite and Beatriz on the conjunction of behavior with structural (diffusion) and neurochemical (spectroscopy) neuroimaging data in relation to mental health and development. This, combined with a large sample of data (ABCD database, Damien Fair), left the audience with the feeling that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Other intriguing topics presented in the Israeli conference included several unique methods applied to structural neuroimaging data: from differentiating the six layers of the cortex (aka cortical layering), and using an MR sequence that provides the caliber of the axons in humans, presented by Dr Yaniv Assaf and his students, to quantitative T1 mapping presented by Dr Mezer. Some of these methods were extended to a discussion about structural plasticity in the session in Rome, chaired by Dr Monika Schonauer, which focused on changes in diffusion weighted measures (Dr Brodt), plasticity of diffusion weighted measures in relation to motor learning (Drs Maggiore and Johansen-Berg) and to the dynamic of the connectome (Dr Assaf). Both topics of developmental neuroimaging and innovative structural neuroimaging methods were merged in a fascinating keynote given in Rome by Dr Armin Raznahan, discussing sex-related differences in structural neuroimaging data (anatomical T1 data) in children.
Israel, one of the leading countries in applications and industry development, is also known as the “start-up nation”. With several developments related to brain stimulation, machine learning algorithm applications to human brain mapping, a strong hub of human brain mappers across populations, ages, and techniques may mutually fertilize both researchers in academia and industry. “These annual meetings, which will continue occurring before the official OHBM conference, allow a unique opportunity to students and researchers with a variety of specialties focusing on the human brain, to interact, collaborate and comment on each other’s work” says Dr Porat. As a small geographical area with many stimulating brains, the ability to bring these brains together to make more than the sum of their parts during this conference was welcome, and we look forward to more exciting developments in human brain mapping in Israel. For more information see https://elsc.huji.ac.il/events/718