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Section: Application Domains

Cognitive neuroscience

Macroscopic Functional cartography with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

The brain as a highly structured organ, with both functional specialization and a complex network organization. While most of the knowledge historically comes from lesion studies and animal electophysiological recordings, the development of non-invasive imaging modalities, such as fMRI, has made it possible to study routinely high-level cognition in humans since the early 90's. This has opened major questions on the interplay between mind and brain , such as: How is the function of cortical territories constrained by anatomy (connectivity) ? How to assess the specificity of brain regions ? How can one characterize reliably inter-subject differences ?

Analysis of brain Connectivity

Functional connectivity is defined as the interaction structure that underlies brain function. Since the beginning of fMRI, it has been observed that remote regions sustain high correlation in their spontaneous activity, i.e. in the absence of a driving task. This means that the signals observed during resting-state define a signature of the connectivity of brain regions. The main interest of resting-state fMRI is that it provides easy-to-acquire functional markers that have recently been proved to be very powerful for population studies.

Modeling of brain processes (MEG)

While fMRI has been very useful in defining the function of regions at the mm scale, Magneto-encephalography (MEG) provides the other piece of the puzzle, namely temporal dynamics of brain activity, at the ms scale. MEG is also non-invasive. It makes it possible to keep track of precise schedule of mental operations and their interactions. It also opens the way toward a study of the rhythmic activity of the brain. On the other hand, the localization of brain activity with MEG entails the solution of a hard inverse problem.

Current challenges in human neuroimaging (acquisition+analysis)

Human neuroimaging targets two major goals: i) the study of neural responses involved in sensory, motor or cognitive functions, in relation to models from cognitive psychology, i.e. the identification of neurophysiological and neuroanatomical correlates of cognition; ii) the identification of markers in brain structure and function of neurological or psychiatric diseases. Both goals have to deal with a tension between

Importantly, the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of the data remains limited due to both resolution improvements (The SNR of the acquired signal is proportional to the voxel size, hence an improvement by a factor of 2 in image resolution along each dimension is payed by a factor of 8 in terms of SNR.) and between-subject variability. Altogether, these factors have led to realize that results of neuroimaging studies were statistically weak, i.e. plagued with low power and leading to unreliable inference [70], and particularly so due to the typically number of subjects included in brain imaging studies (20 to 30, this number tends to increase [71]): this is at the core of the neuroimaging reproducibility crisis. This crisis is deeply related to a second issue, namely that only few neuroimaging datasets are publicly available, making it impossible to re-assess a posteriori the information conveyed by the data. Fortunately, the situation improves, lead by projects such as NeuroVault or OpenfMRI. A framework for integrating such datasets is however still missing.