Center for Translational NeuroImaging: Who are we?
The CTNI is a full-scale behavioral neuroscience center that seeks to improve human mental and physical health through advanced experimental approaches that bridge the growing gap between basic neurobiology and clinical presentation. Over the years we have pioneered the ability to perform functional imaging experiments in awake, conscious animals, oftentimes at the strong disapproval of our imaging colleagues. However, the publication of over 300 papers on functional neuroimaging in awake animals, from both inside and outside our group, shows that the field of awake imaging is healthy and growing.
While some themes of interest in the Center are organized by pathology (e.g. traumatic brain injury, neurodegeneration), some themes are relevant across various disease states (e.g. social modulation of affect). We have used a variety of animal models, from rodents (e.g. rats, mice, voles, hamsters) to small primates (e.g. marmosets), and ranging from barely domesticated to genetically-modified. With our analytic choices we emphasize an unbiased and data-driven approach by utilizing standardized, custom-designed atlases for each of the animal models we study. While our atlases require months to complete, they ensure impartial determination of the regions of neural change.
Rather than focus on one imaging modality, research in the Center encourages a multi-modal approach that enhances our view of the brain by observing it from multiple perspectives. This philosophical choice allows each modality to both inform and constrain the inferences gleaned from the others.
To complement our data generated from multi-modal neuroimaging, research at the Center also incorporates behavioral assessment and post-imaging molecular biological analysis of dissected brains. The Center operates a full-scale behavioral assessment laboratory that employs both manual scoring and automated tracking to associate neural changes with behavioral ones. The Center is also in the process of developing a post-imaging analytic pipeline to assess differential expression of the entire transcriptome in brain regions identified by obtained neuroimaging results. Datasets this comprehensive are unprecedented, and offer the potential to reveal novel targets for pharmacological or other therapeutic interventions.
With a focus on translational neuroimaging, work in our Center is situated between human neuroimaging (including clinical and academic) and basic animal neurobiology, an approach that offers several unique advantages.
Speaking the same language
By imaging animals with MRI, we employ the tool that is most frequently used to probe brain function in humans, giving basic scientists employing animal models an unparalleled degree of comparability to neurobiological research in humans.
Combining approaches for mechanistic insights
Work with animal models allows us to combine a macro-level imaging approach with fine-grained cellular and molecular approaches that offer the ability to zoom in on a neurobiological mechanism.
Traversing levels of analysis
The further addition of controlled behavioral observations gives us the ability to traverse levels of analysis in the service of explaining the neurobiological basis of behavior.