Did you know that your brain processes information in a hierarchy? As you are reading this page, the signal coming in through your eyes enters your brain through the thalamus, which organizes it. That information then goes on to the primary visual cortex at the back of the brain, where populations of neurons respond to very specific basic properties. For instance, one set of neurons might fire up because the text on your screen is black and another set might activate because there are vertical lines. This population will then trigger a secondary set of neurons that respond to more complex shapes like circles, and so on until you have a complete picture.
For the first time, a new tool developed at the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) allows researchers to interactively explore the hierarchical processes that happen in the brain when it is resting or performing tasks. Scientists also hope that the tool can shed some light on how neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s spread throughout the brain.
Created in conjunction with computer scientists at University of California, Davis (UC Davis) and with input from neuroscientists at UC San Francisco (UCSF), the software, called Brain Modulyzer, combines multiple coordinated views of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data–like heat maps, node link diagrams and anatomical views–to provide context for brain connectivity data.
“The tool provides a novel framework of visualization and new interaction techniques that explore the brain connectivity at various hierarchical levels. This method allows researchers to explore multipart observations that have not been looked at before,” says Sugeerth Murugesan, who co-led the development of Brain Modulyzer. He is currently a graduate student researcher at Berkeley Lab and a PhD candidate at UC Davis.
“Other tools tend to look at abstract …