The Genetic Architecture of the Human Cerebral Cortex
Neda Jahanshad, PhD, associate professor of neurology at the INI and Paul Thompson, PhD, associate director of the institute, led a massive international MRI and genetics collaboration that united more than 360 scientists from 184 institutions in what’s been called the “crown jewel” of the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) Consortium. The study, published in the journal Science in March, studied more than 50,000 people and found 306 genetic variants that influence brain structure.
THC Exposure is Reflected in the Microstructure of the Cerebral Cortex and Amygdala of Young Adults
Ryan Cabeen, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the INI, and Institute Director Arthur W. Toga led a research team that explored associations between THC exposure and brain microstructure using data from the Human Connectome Project. They uncovered a relationship between exposure to THC and structural abnormalities in brain areas related to emotion regulation, decision making and salience processing.
New Findings on Alzheimer’s Disease
Judy Pa, PhD, associate professor of neurology at the INI, and her team co-authored two studies of Alzhiemer’s disease in Neurobiology of Aging this spring. One investigation looked at a particular type of inflammatory marker known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, finding that higher levels of the marker were associated with lower functional connectivity in the brains of older adults. The other study explored the relationship between mitochondrial DNA and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
How Cognitive Intelligence is a Whole Brain Phenomenon
The INI’s Paul Thompson, PhD, and Neda Jahanshad, PhD, were part of an international collaboration through the ENIGMA Schizophrenia Working Group, which analyzed MRI scans and cognitive measures from 1,717 participants. The study shows that small differences in brain connectivity are associated with differences in general cognitive ability, or IQ.
Read about the group’s findings here.
COVID-19 Data Archive
Dominique Duncan, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at the INI, received a grant of more than $230,000 from NSF to build and launch a data archive for researchers studying COVID-19. COVID-ARC will leverage the institute’s experience in organizing, storing and disseminating biomedical data to rapidly unite researchers studying the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The platform will enable researchers to store, share, visualize and analyze a variety of data types, including patient medical history, demographic information, symptoms, cognitive assessments, imaging data, electrophysiology recordings and more.
Exercising in Virtual Reality
Judy Pa, PhD, associate professor of neurology at the INI, received a five-year, $7 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to launch a phase 2 clinical trial of a virtual reality-based intervention for Alzheimer’s disease. NeuroRiderVR, a 16-week program for older adults with concerns about Alzheimer’s disease, combines physical and cognitive exercise to improve brain function in an effort to reduce the risk of developing the debilitating disease. Though both cognitive and physical exercise can be effective in managing Alzheimer’s, few studies have tested a hybrid intervention that combines the two approaches.
Functional Imaging of Alzheimer’s Disease
Kay Jann, PhD, assistant professor of research at the INI, and Danny JJ Wang, PhD, professor of neurology and radiology and director of imaging technology innovation at the INI, have received a five-year grant of more than $3.2 million from the National Institute on Aging to apply advanced fMRI technology to the study of Alzheimer’s disease. Hosung Kim, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at the INI, is a co-investigator on the grant. The goal of the project is to identify a noninvasive, economical imaging biomarker of neuronal injury in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease.
Ultra-High Field Vascular Imaging
Lirong Yan, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at the INI, received $300,000 from the BrightFocus Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports research on brain and eye diseases, to study the role of cerebrovascular diseases in Alzheimer’s, as well as vascular cognitive impairment and dementia. She and her team will use the institute’s ultra-high field 7Tesla MRI scanner to collect detailed images of very small blood vessels in the brain that are difficult to see with lower-resolution scanners.
OHBM and AAIC
Scientific conferences look a little different these days—OHBM, the annual meeting of the Organization for Human Brain mapping, is one of the biggest events in the field of neuroscience—but this year it took place virtually. Researchers presented posters, attended keynote lectures and engaged with other scientists, all through an interactive online forum.
65 researchers from the INI presented their latest findings on brain aging, epilepsy, neural network mapping and more. At the end of July, our Global Alzheimer’s Association Interactive Network, a federated data platform that fosters cohort discover and collaboration, will recruit new users and data partners with a virtual booth at the 2020 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.
NIIN Students Present Work at OHBM
Students in the INI’s Master of Science in Neuroimaging and Informatics (NIIN) program took part in a special opportunity this term: They analyzed diffusion MRI data collected by INI’s Farshid Sepehrband, PhD, Kay Jann, PhD, and Ryan Cabeen, PhD—and an abstract the students wrote was accepted to OHBM 2020. In June, they presented their poster at the virtual conference.
SMART-VR Cribs Project
USC’s SensoriMotor Assessment and Rehabilitation Training in Virtual Reality (SMART-VR) Center, co-directed by INI’s Sook-Lei Liew, PhD, and Judy Pa, PhD, postponed its annual symposium—but found a creative way to keep its community engaged and connected. In March, the center launched the #SMARTVRCribsChallenge—which uses the format of the early 2000s hit MTV show "MTV Cribs,” where celebrities gave behind-the-scenes tours of their homes—to give viewers an inside look at VR-equipped labs.
Take a virtual tour of Dr. Liew’s lab and see how she uses VR for stroke rehabilitation.
Virtual Tour of Stevens Hall for Neuroimaging
We’re spending less time at the institute lately—and we miss our world-class research facilities. Luckily, the INI’s Dr. Sook-Lei Liew helped us film and launch a virtual tour of Stevens Hall for Neuroimaging! You’ll get to explore the building, see a hologram of our director, Dr. Arthur W. Toga, sharing the INI’s vision, and experience a 7T MRI scan up close.
Download the USC SMART-VR app in the iOS or Android app store and select USC Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute. You can also learn more about the app here.