While scientists debate the forthcoming multi-billion dollar Brain Activity Map proposal championed by the Obama administration, an ongoing federally funded initiative known as the Human Connectome Project has released the first in a series of unique, high-resolution neuroimaging data sets, providing a detailed map the neural networks of the human brain.
Human Connectome Project has worked over the past two years to improve neuroimaging data acquisition and analysis techniques. And thanks to those improvements, the group was able to release the what is to date the highest quality brain connectivity data set systematically acquired across healthy adults—and make it freely available to laboratories and research institutions across the globe.
“The devil is in the details here, but in looking systematically at the data, we were able to make improvements to reduce distortions and align the data more accurately across modalities and from one subject to another. This resulted in very high quality imaging data,” said David C. Van Essen, a neuroscientist at the Washington University School of Medicine and principal investigator for the Human Connectome Project.
The first quarterly release of data, stored in a specialized database called the ConnectomeDB, includes brain connectivity data from 68 healthy study participants. Each participant was scanned using two distinct approaches: resting-state functional connectivity scanning and diffusion imaging. Taken together, the researchers believe these two approaches provide better insight into the organization of neural connections, i.e. the wiring, within the brain.
Add in associated Task-MRI data—activation data from specific tasks—as well as behavioral data from each participant, and Van Essen said scientists have a lot of valuable information to help them better understand how human brain circuitry influences behavior.
“One of the key objectives of the Human Connectome Project is to go beyond just a simple description of typical brain connectivity,” he said. “With this kind of data, we can start to decipher in much greater detail than was previously possible how brain circuits differ across individuals.”
Over the next two and a half years, the group plans to scan a total of 1200 individuals using these improved neuroimaging techniques and make each data set available to interested researchers on a quarterly basis.
“By offering such high quality data and a large number of participants, we anticipate the scientific community will be able to dig deeper into brain connectivity issues so we can better understand the variability of human brain circuitry in healthy adults,” says Van Essen. “We also hope that these data sets will lead to follow-up projects that can explore the impact of abnormal brain circuitry and its role in myriad disorders of the brain ranging from autism to schizophrenia.”