The Integrated Brain: Mapping Dynamic Neural Function onto Structure

The Challenge

The brain is the most complex part of the human body. This 3-pound organ is the seat of intelligence, interpreter of the senses, initiator of body movement, and controller of behavior.

Scientists have learned more about the brain in the past 10 years than in all previous centuries, thanks to the accelerating pace of research in neurological and behavioral science and the development of new research techniques.

Although neuroscientists have pieced together a picture of the brain, to complete the puzzle we need to integrate and perform simulations with different kinds of data from the brain -- structure and anatomy, physiology and temporal dynamics, and gene networks, all at multiple scales -- molecular subcellular, local circuit, and systems.

Today there are anatomical databases, gene databases, gene expression pattern databases, and various packages and online sites for simulating temporal dynamics. However there is no one place where this information co-exists.

The Innovation

There is more to learn about the brain from the vast amounts of information already collected. By linking resources and data pools using cutting edge technology, we can further define the brain, its elements and functions.

Our goal is to:

  • Merge existing datasets and develop the capability of incorporating new datasets so they represent, or can be mapped onto, specific brain structures.
  • Develop capability to run simulations of temporal dynamics at the various spatial and temporal scales.
  • Compile findings on brain region homology and correspondence across phylogeny at the anatomical, physiological, and genetic levels.
  • Build an open source environment for data integration, exploration, and sharing.

This ability to review data and information in new and innovative ways could redefine the field of neuroscience.

UCSD is ideally situated for this effort given its unique NCMIR resource with the center’s strengths in imaging and structure at many levels, the university’s strength in systems biology and computational modeling, its strength and experience in solving multi-disciplinary computing problems, and the presence of the San Diego Supercomputer and CALIT2.

Enhancing Patient Care

With its ability to model, test and observe the effects of drugs or surgical adjustments with no harm or intrusion to a patient, the application can be applied to exploring therapeutic treatments for many neurological diseases, including major diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Down syndrome and autism, as well as more specialized diseases such as Fragile-X syndrome and Rett syndrome.