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Call for proposals

The Azrieli National Institute for Human Brain Imaging and Research is inviting researchers, from both academia and industry, to submit proposals for research involving the use of the Institute’s 7-Tesla MRI infrastructure.
 

Successful applicants will receive a grant, as well as access to all standard imaging protocols at the Azrieli Brain institute.

More information about the call for proposals

Micrographia and brain disorders

Micrographia — that is, small-sized handwriting — long considered a symptom of Parkinson’s disease (PD), is also observed in patients with other neurodegenerative disorders. It sometimes pre-dates the onset of motor symptoms or follows damage to brain’s basal ganglia (a region essential to motor control), without any accompanying PD symptoms. This inconsistency suggests pathologically small handwriting is not necessarily due to the bradykinesia and rigidity associated with PD.

In this review article, Prof. Rivka Inzelberg, Prof. Tamar Flash and their colleagues review the evidence for the causes and contributors to micrographia, including lack of dopamine, loss of movement smoothness, impairments in motor control and motion planning, loss of automaticity, and reduced movement vigor. They conclude that the primary cause of micrographia is lesions in the basal ganglia — common in PD, but not exclusive to it.

Overgeneralized anxiety

In order to improve our understanding and treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD, it is critical to clarify the interaction that occurs between brain circuits involved in emotion regulation. Prof. Rony Paz studies the neural pathways between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex—regions that underlie emotional learning and memory, and decision-making and perception, respectively. The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex work to maintain a subtle balance in the brain’s ever-changing environment. When this balance is disrupted, mental illness such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression may result; disruption in early life can contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder.

In this study, Prof. Paz and his team demonstrated that perception is altered when an individual faces aversive stimuli. This alteration in perception can lead to subsequent maladaptive decision-making, even when facing stimuli which are neutral and safe. Working with individuals diagnosed with anxiety, the researchers demonstrated how brain wiring changes induced by aversive stimuli were stored in memory, thus maintaining maladaptive, anxious decision-making. The researchers then worked to pinpoint the amygdala-prefrontal cortex interactions that govern this phenomonon.

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The 7-Tesla MRI magnet

The 7-Tesla MRI magnet is the heart of the Azrieli National Institute. A device that is at the very cutting edge of MRI technology, acquisition of the 7-Tesla MRI was completed based on the recommendation of an expert team of Weizmann scientists and technicians, who traveled to different sites around the world in order to test the equipment. Composed of many complex components, the system's installation, activation, and use requires close and ongoing cooperation between the developers/vendors and scientists associated with the Azrieli National Institute. To support smooth integration of the 7-Tesla MRI into the Institute's research program, a physicist and technician from the vendor will be placed on campus for the first five years of operation.

Annual Azrieli lecture in brain imaging

The first annual Azrieli lecture in brain imaging took place on May 2017.  The speaker was Bruce Rosen, MD, PhD, a world-leading expert in functional neuroimaging who is Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Health Science and Technology at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, and also serves as Director of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Prof. Rosen's lecture was entitled "Pushing the Limits of Human Neuroimaging" and was attended by a many of the leading figures in Israel's brain imaging community.

 

Sweet boys and the taste of truth

The neural encoding of abstract concepts, such as truth and justice, would seem to be further removed from the sensory perception areas of our brain than more concrete words, such as apple and leaf, which trigger visual, tactile, aromatic, and other sensory impressions. Nevertheless, based on a number of recent studies, neuroscientists have been arguing with increasing strength that the brain does indeed encode abstract concepts in sensorimotor circuitry.

In this article, Prof. Rafi Malach and his colleagues focused on the embodiment of a set of abstract concepts they call connotations — such as “sweet” in “sweet boy,” where the adjective has been abstracted away from its concrete meaning (i.e., the boy doesn’t literally taste of sugar).

The scientists reviewed evidence from recent studies suggesting that emotion, body, and language are three factors required to understand how neural circuits represent connotations. They then propose a theoretical model to explain how these three factors contribute to the emergence of connotations, formulate a computational model of the theoretical model, and test their model in a task involving the automatic identification of connotations. The results support their model, which suggests that embodiment - via emotion, body, and language — plays a role in how the brain encodes abstract connotations.

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