Focus on a joint research project: LargeBrainNets

LargeBrainNets (Since 2016)

Characterizing Large-scale Brain Networks Using Novel Computational Methods for dMRI and fMRI-based Connectivity

Principal Investigators: 

Research objectives:

The major goal of this project is to develop and validate sophisticated computational tools for identifying functional nodes at the whole-brain level and measuring structural and functional connectivity between them, using state-of-the-art human brain MR imaging techniques and open-source datasets such as Human Connectome Project data. Our proposed methods will reveal in unprecedented detail the structural and functional connectivity of the human brain. Furthermore, our innovative computational approach to brain connectomics will help create the building blocks for shaping the next generation of research on brain function and psychopathology.

Scientific achievements:

  • The Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) of the human brain has been considered as a fine-tuned functional module in the human brain over the development for visual word recognition. We have advanced our understanding of the connectivity fingerprints of VWFA and its cognitive function. For this, delineated the functional and structural connectivity of VWFA in the same adult cohort, focusing on the contrast between fronto-temporal language regions and fronto-parietal attention networks.  Based on the “connectivity constraints” account,  we are testing two hypotheses: 1) if VWFA involves word processing, it will have strong and highly-concordant connectivitywith fronto-temporal regions, and hypothesise these patterns of connectivity are associated with language skills; on the contrary, if VWFA is partly of the attention network, it will strong and highly-concordant connectivity of VWFA to fronto-parietal regions and hypothesise that the VWFA-parietal connectivity correlates with attention skills rather than reading skills
  • The human insular cortex is an integrative brain structure involved in cognition, emotion and introspection. A unique aspect of the neuronal organization of the insula is the presence of von Economo neurons (VENs).  The presence of VENs is thought to play an important role in goal-directed behaviors and emotional regulation. Our first contribution on this aspect, was to show that clinical MRI scanners are sensitive to the presence and morphological characteristics of VENs. For this, we provided 3 different lines of evidence: a theoretical one, based on simple cellular models; an in silico one based on simulations of the MRI acquisition on 3D reconstruction of VENs; and finally, evidence of the sensitivity of the signal on a database of 400+ human individuals.

Publications and Awards:

  • 8 publications
  • the 2016 publication by Gallardo et al in OHBM has been given a student merit award at the Organisation by the Human Brain Mapping (Geneva, 2016)

Selected Publication:

  • Chen L, Wassermann D, Kochalka J, Menon V (2017) Concordance between white-matter pathways and functional circuits linking the VWFA and IPS. OHBM 2017 (Vancouver)