Translational Neuroscience [Core C]

Director - Laurie Cutting, Ph.D.

The Translational Neurosciences Core assists investigators in characterizing brain structure and function in study participants with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in developing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalogram/event-related potential (EEG/ERP) methods, including trans-species MRI and physiological studies in mouse models, and in developing tools and approaches to facilitate discovery. In collaboration with Behavioral Phenotyping Core D, Core C is well-positioned over the next five years to expand trans-species research and discovery using parallel MRI and EEG/ERP protocols. To view our Core C overview of services webinar click here

Core objectives are to assist VKC Investigators in:

  • Design of experiments, including appropriate functional MRI and EEG/ERP/eye tracking tasks and acquisition parameters
  • MRI and EEG/ERP data collection in various IDDs (especially children and minimally verbal persons)
  • Implementing trans-species MRI and EEG/ERP studies
  • Management and analysis of MRI and EEG/ERP data
  • Developing analysis pipelines and approaches to address particularly problematic issues in IDD research (e.g., motion artifacts)
  • Facilitating expansion of MRI and EEG/ERP methods to generate new IDD research directions
  • Directing large-scale analyses using ImageVU and other data repositories

Core C Services

Core C services may be requested through the Core C service request form (button at left). The Core's services fit into the following general areas. Click on the topic of interest for more details.

Core C Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Core C Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) services function as bridge for IDDRC researchers with the resources of the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science (VUIIS) by providing technical and financial support for studies that can benefit from these technologies. Core C personnel assist investigators at various stages of MRI research and promote the use of Core C services by non-traditional researchers and by encouraging non-traditional participants and non-traditional approaches. This is done by:

  • Encouraging IDD scientists with human MRI expertise to collaborate with those studying animal models (trans-species MRI)
  • Assisting non-IDD MRI users to include IDDs in their research
  • Expanding MRI findings/interpretability in IDDs (by, e.g., continuing to develop robust data analysis approaches that can handle challenging data issues such as motion).

Includes but is not limited to:

  • Human: Functional MRI; Diffusion Imaging; Structural (volumetric) analyses, as well as implementation of less routinely used imaging modalities in IDDs (e.g., Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy)
  • Animal (IDD mouse models): ex-vivo structural and Diffusion MRI

Core C Neurophysiology Services

Core C supports human EEG/ERP and eye tracking studies in infants, children, and adults with typical and atypical development as well as EEG/ERP research in mouse models of IDDs. The Core supports researchers new to neurophysiology as well as expert users, with specific services tailored to individual project needs.

Core C neurophysiology services include but are not limited to:

  • Human: EEG/ERP, including hyperscanning; eye tracking
  • Animal (IDD mouse models): 2-channel EEG/ERP, with expansion to 30-channel underway

Services are provided on a fee-for-service basis; financial support may be available for pilot studies to verify protocol feasibility and acquire preliminary data for grant proposals.

Core C neurophysiology services are administered by the IDDRC-supported Human Neurophysiology and Mouse Neurophysiology Labs.

Task Design Consultation and Presentation

Consultation on experimental design for ERP and MRI  including E-prime programming, audio-visual stimuli/cognitive task development, audio-visual system use, and facilitating connections with other IDDRC investigators who have expertise in particular areas (e.g., attention).

Services range from adapting existing behavioral paradigms for use with EEG/ERP/ET and Magnetic Resonance Imaging, to implementation of established EEG/ERP and Magnetic Resonance Imaging paradigms, and development of novel auditory/visual/tactile paradigms optimized for IDD research.

Pre-scanning Assistance

  • The Core provides assistance in IRB protocol development for Magnetic Resonance Imaging and EEG/ERP studies.
  • The Core provides expertise and training in Magnetic Resonance Imaging mock scanning procedures.
  • The Core provides EEG/ERP desensitization visits for participants and their families in advance of study data collection.

Data Acquisition

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Core C has a repository of exam cards available for investigators. Additionally, new/optimized technologies are continuously being developed by VUIIS engineers and physicists. Core C ensures that users can take advantage of these technologies by coordinating with VUIIS for MR sequence implementation. Standardizing MRS protocols and multi-band imaging (which allows for higher quality and faster data acquisition, important for IDDs) are two examples of this service.

Human Neurophysiology Lab offers 128-channel EEG (resting state and/or task-specific), EEG with event-specific markups for subsequent ERP derivation, and eye tracking.

  • Mobile EEG lab is available for off-campus data collections (e.g., schools, group homes, conference sites).
  • Data collection can be performed entirely by HPL staff or by the lab staff in combination with the study personnel.
  • The lab is also experienced with multisite studies, ensuring precise cross-site implementation of the experimental protocols and serving as the central point for data processing and statistical analyses.

Data Processing and Analysis

Core C provides assistance in data processing and analysis for both Magnetic Resonance Imaging and EEG/ERP/eye tracking data.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Core C (a) offers trainings to teach individuals to perform Magnetic Resonance Imaging analyses and (b) provides automated routines for exporting and organizing raw Magnetic Resonance Imaging data collected at VUIIS.

Human Neurophysiology Lab (a) All human data EEG/ERP processing is performed by Core C staff, unless otherwise requested. This includes data quality review, artifact detection and removal ) or correction, electrode montage transformations, and data export. (b) Core C offers training on EEG/ERP data processing and analysis procedures.

Development of Robust Magnetic Resonance Imaging Processing Approaches

Core C employs techniques to address data quality (mostly due to motion artifacts, but also anatomical structural variability) that are often problematic for IDD scans.

MRI and EEG/ERP Data Interpretation

Upon request, one-on-one and small group consultation is available; statistical analysis consultation with the Biostatistics and Data Sciences Core E can be arranged.
Additionally, the Human Neurophysiology Lab can assist with final report preparation (e.g., posters, talks, manuscripts) and range from consultations on data interpretation to written method, analysis, and results sections.

To promote cross-species translational research, Core C has developed infrastructure for mouse Magnetic Resonance Imaging (ex-vivo) and EEG/ERP data acquisition.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging mouse services include acquisition and analysis approaches for structural (volumetric) and diffusion imaging. These incorporate automated analysis pipelines and that have been validated against “gold standard” hand drawn analyses. Additional modalities are currently under development.

Mouse Neurophysiology Lab services include expertise in the use of two channel EEG, sleep studies, and auditory evoked potential studies in mice, including analysis of epileptiform activity and seizures, spectral power (both resting and induced), and complex auditory stimuli experimental designs (e.g. auditory habituation, odd-ball response, auditory “chirp” induced high-frequency oscillations). The MNP lab is also expanding capabilities with the acquisition of a 30-channel system that will enable coherence and more sophisticated regional analysis approaches used by the HPL to support cross-species studies.

Core C is continually developing new approaches and techniques, as well as evaluating new areas for expansion. Current efforts include:

  • Transpecies Research. Developing joint paradigms for human/animal studies:
    • Core C purchased a NeuroNexus 30-channel system for the Mouse Neurophysiology Lab, including software that interfaces with the SmartBox Pro data acquisition program, and all Matlab data analysis modules have been developed. A high sampling rate processor with flexible input/output capability is also available for stimulation paradigms used in human IDD and animal model studies (e.g., auditory habituation, mismatch negativity).
    • Core C is expanding MRI for mouse models, including Magnetic Spectroscopy Imaging and in-vivo imaging
  • Hyperscanning. Core C is focusing on developing hyperscanning approaches for the Human Neurophysiology Lab using newly acquired technical capabilities that allow for simultaneous, fully synchronized EEG acquisition in two participants. This allows for the Lab to develop ways of capturing the neural mechanisms involved in real-time interpersonal social coordination.
  • Utilizing ImageVU and Other ‘Big Data’ Efforts. Core C leverages ‘big data’ resources in two ways, via: (a) combined XNAT databases of MRI research scans from IDDRC investigators willing to share data and (b) ImageVU. In XNAT, prototypes have been developed for searching across behavioral data provided by IDDRC investigators (such as IQ, diagnosis, etc.) to combine datasets and study IDDs on a large scale. Core C is building tools that consider such issues as data de-identification/PHI protection and OpenNeuro compliance for investigators to use for uploading and combining datasets made available outside of Vanderbilt by IDDRC investigators. Core C also can use ImageVU’s MRI data, along with ACCRE’s computational resources to generate derived images and metrics (e.g., regional brain volume and cortical thickness) and then combine these data with detailed Electronic Medical Record information (e.g., demographics, ICD-codes, CPT-codes, lab results) for users who have interests in specific populations.
  • Brain stimulation approaches. More information coming soon!

Key Personnel

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