Last fall, an INI research team led by Michael Bienkowski, PhD, released the world’s most detailed atlas of the mouse hippocampus, a part of the brain key for memory and spatial navigation. The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, was one of the journal’s all-time most popular papers and scored in the top 1% of all research outputs tracked by Altmetric.
Now, Bienkowski’s team has released a new study in the Journal of Comparative Neurology that examines connectivity between several key parts of the mammalian visual system, including the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus, the primary visual cortex and extrastriate visual cortices.
“We found new pathways in the mouse brain that relay visual signals from the eye to the cortex where conscious perception of vision occurs,” Bienkowski says. “We believe these pathways may underlie a phenomenon known as ‘blindsight’ in patients who retain some visual abilities despite a loss of vision due to brain damage.”
The Journal of Comparative Neurology’s June 2019 cover will feature a visualization of the brain that Bienkowski created (image left) with the same methods used in the study. A coronal tissue section from the mouse brain was stained using chemical markers that help researchers better understand how the brain is organized. In this image, the large magenta-stained region in the center is the thalamus; the dense green-stained region in the lower right is the hypothalamus.
Another paper from researchers at the Center for Integrative Connectomics (CIC), a part of INI dedicated to mapping connectivity and led by Hongwei Dong, MD, PhD, was published in Nature Communications in April. The team, which included Houri Hintiryan, PhD, graduate student Muye Zhu and Bienkowski, among others, created a new method of automatically segmenting individual neurons in brain tissue, called G-Cut. The new tool can assist researchers to create enhanced digital reconstructions of neurons and their circuitry.
The Blood Brain Barrier and Alzheimer’s Disease
INI’s Arthur W. Toga, PhD, and Farshid Sepehrband, PhD, teamed up with a group of researchers from across USC and beyond to study the role of the blood brain barrier in Alzheimer’s disease. The five-year investigation found that leaky capillaries that allow toxins to enter the brain are an early hallmark of Alzheimer’s. The study, which has major implications for diagnosing and treating the disease, was published in January in Nature Medicine.
The Blood Brain Barrier
Jim Stanis, INI’s medical animator, created this animation depicting the blood brain barrier's role in neurodegeneration. The blood brain barrier lines the vessels of the circulatory system in the brain, preventing harmful substances from crossing. This animation explains its anatomy at a micro level—and what happens when it starts to break down.
Daniel Albrecht received his doctorate in medical neuroscience from the Indiana University School of Medicine. His research focuses on using multimodal neuroimaging techniques (e.g. PET, MRI) to investigate the biological substrates of neurological disease, with a particular interest in understanding how inflammation contributes to processes underlying dementia. He is also working on a project looking at the associations between decreased cerebral blood flow and aggregation of misfolded protein (i.e. amyloid, tau) throughout the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Christopher Ching completed his doctorate in neuroscience at UCLA, where he studied neuroimaging markers of psychiatric disorders. He now leads the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics Through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) bipolar disorder working group, the largest neuroimaging study of bipolar disorder, which aims to identify generalizable and replicable brain markers to improve diagnosis and treatment. One of his research interests involves identifying multimodal interactions between aging, Alzheimer's disease and psychiatric risk markers, which may help predict long-term outcomes, better differentiate notoriously heterogeneous psychiatric patient populations, and identify modifiable factors for future psychiatric treatment trials.