The combination of anatomical and functional information afforded by Magnetic Resonance Imaging provides a powerful means to investigate the brain structural and functional organization. We strive to improve sensitivity, resolution and specificity of MRI, and to push the boundaries of this technique as a diagnostic and research tool to study brain function and the neurobiological basis of brain disease.
We are organized in different labs focusing on:
- advanced approaches based on graph and complex network theory for the analysis of structural and functional brain images;
- the application of functional and pharmacological MRI to the study of brain disease in patients and animal models
- the development of novel nanoscopic agents for Optically Detected MR and functional imaging.
- The computational infrastructure of the Brain Networks lab includes two servers Dell PowerEdge, 24 CPUs Intel Xeon each and 512 GB RAM, and a cluster of high.performance workstations.
- The Magnetic Resonance Imaging lab is equipped with a multichannel Bruker Pharmascan MR scanner at 7 Tesla, and sophisticated ancillary equipment for physiological control and monitoring; this lab has access to CiMeC in vivo facilities.
- The Optically Detected MR lab has a number of coherent sources of various wavelengths and powers, including a Coherent Verdi V5 laser for the excitation of fluorescent signals in nanodiamonds and other materials. Moreover, the laboratory is equipped with a Nikon Eclipse T1 fluorescence microscope, and a Nicolet iS50 FT-IR infrared spectrofotometer. For sample preparation and characterization, we have access to state-of-the-art nanofabrication facilities at the IIT headquarters in Genova.
Brain Networks Lab
Neuroimaging data can be represented in terms of networks, or graphs, with anatomically or functionally defined districts representing the nodes, and the edges reflecting a measure of similarity or connectivity between different brain regions. The BraiNets lab leverages recent developments in graph theory and statistical physics to unravel structural and topological features of complex brain networks.
Specific problems we are tackling include the:
- investigation of the modular structure of brain functional and structural connectivity beyond the resolution limit that affects current graph partitioning methods;
- classification of connector hubs, i.e. brain regions responsible for the integration of brain activity;
- identification of connectivity-based markers of neurological and psychiatric disease;
- study of the interplay between structural and functional connectivity;
- investigation of the inception of functional connectivity networks in newborn babies.
- Andrea Gabrielli and Tiziano Squartini - CNR Institute of Complex Systems (Rome. Italy)
- Guido Caldarelli – IMT (Lucca, Italy)
- Sandro Vega-Pons, Emanuele Olivetti, Paolo Avesani - NILab, FBK-CIMeC (Trento, Italy)
- Matteo Cafini, Giorgio Vallortigara – CIMeC, University of Trento, Italy
- Diego Sona, Vittorio Murino – PAVIS (IIT)
Neuroimaging of addiction
This division focuses on the application of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging methods to map and investigate brain circuits involved in drug and alcohol addiction. Specifically, we pursue a translational, systems-based approach to understand the alterations in brain function, structure and connectivity in patients, and in animal models of drug dependence. Moreover, we apply neuroimaging methods, dubbed phMRI, to probe the effects of approved and new pharmacological treatments of addiction. This research effort is funded by the EC within the H2020 framework through the project System Biology of Alcohol Addiction (Sybil-AA).
- Wolfgang Sommer and Hamid Noori - Central Institute of Mental Health (Mannheim, Germany)
- The Sybil-AA Consortium
- Roberto Ciccocioppo – University of Camerino, Italy
Novel imaging probes represent a promising development in medical imaging, exploiting recent technological advances that make it possible to manipulate matter at the nano-scale and to assemble hybrid nanostructures that combine natural and artificial elements. A long-term goal of this laboratory is the development of brain-penetrant MR imaging agents that sense directly neuronal activity, as opposed to the indirect detection of the down-stream effects of neural activation on brain hemodynamics.
To this end, we are exploring several novel materials, including biodegradable polymer nanoparticles for delivery of imaging probes and therapeutic agents to the brain, targeted MR contrast agents, injectable nanoresonators and, more recently, nanodiamonds.
This novel and promising technology exploits the unique properties of negatively charged Nitrogen-Vacancy centers in diamond. The spin-dependent fluorescence of NV centers makes it possible to perform ultrahigh-sensitivity magnetometry experiments, thus probing cellular activity and microenvironment with unprecedented accuracy and resolution. Our laboratory develops and deploys new methods and diamond-based materials for optically detected NMR, optical pumping for NMR enhancement, and direct measurement of time-varying magnetic fields in living cells and tissues.
- Alex Pines and Claudia Avalos – Berkeley University, CA, USA
- Antonio Miotello and Massimo Cazzanelli – University of Trento, Italy