Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Frontiers in neuroinformatics


Computational Neuroscience is an emerging field that provides unique opportunities to study complex brain structures through realistic neural simulations. However, as biological details are added to models, the execution time for the simulation becomes longer. Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) are now being utilized to accelerate simulations due to their ability to perform computations in parallel. As such, they have shown significant improvement in execution time compared to Central Processing Units (CPUs). Most neural simulators utilize either multiple CPUs or a single GPU for better performance, but still show limitations in execution time when biological details are not sacrificed. Therefore, we present a novel CPU/GPU simulation environment for large-scale biological networks, the NeoCortical Simulator version 6 (NCS6). NCS6 is a free, open-source, parallelizable, and scalable simulator, designed to run on clusters of multiple machines, potentially with high performance computing devices in each of them. It has built-in leaky-integrate-and-fire (LIF) and Izhikevich (IZH) neuron models, but users also have the capability to design their own plug-in interface for different neuron types as desired. NCS6 is currently able to simulate one million cells and 100 million synapses in quasi real time by distributing data across eight machines with each having two video cards.

Concepts: Brain, Simulation, Operations research, Parallel computing, Computer graphics, Computer, Simulation123, Computer simulation


Brain connectomics research has rapidly expanded using functional MRI (fMRI) and diffusion-weighted MRI (dwMRI). A common product of these varied analyses is a connectivity matrix (CM). A CM stores the connection strength between any two regions (“nodes”) in a brain network. This format is useful for several reasons: (1) it is highly distilled, with minimal data size and complexity, (2) graph theory can be applied to characterize the network’s topology, and (3) it retains sufficient information to capture individual differences such as age, gender, intelligence quotient (IQ), or disease state. Here we introduce the UCLA Multimodal Connectivity Database (, an openly available website for brain network analysis and data sharing. The site is a repository for researchers to publicly share CMs derived from their data. The site also allows users to select any CM shared by another user, compute graph theoretical metrics on the site, visualize a report of results, or download the raw CM. To date, users have contributed over 2000 individual CMs, spanning different imaging modalities (fMRI, dwMRI) and disorders (Alzheimer’s, autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). To demonstrate the site’s functionality, whole brain functional and structural connectivity matrices are derived from 60 subjects' (ages 26-45) resting state fMRI (rs-fMRI) and dwMRI data and uploaded to the site. The site is utilized to derive graph theory global and regional measures for the rs-fMRI and dwMRI networks. Global and nodal graph theoretical measures between functional and structural networks exhibit low correspondence. This example demonstrates how this tool can enhance the comparability of brain networks from different imaging modalities and studies. The existence of this connectivity-based repository should foster broader data sharing and enable larger-scale meta-analyses comparing networks across imaging modality, age group, and disease state.

Concepts: Scientific method, Neuroimaging, Magnetic resonance imaging, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Hyperactivity, Graph theory, Intelligence, Graph


We present The Virtual Brain (TVB), a neuroinformatics platform for full brain network simulations using biologically realistic connectivity. This simulation environment enables the model-based inference of neurophysiological mechanisms across different brain scales that underlie the generation of macroscopic neuroimaging signals including functional MRI (fMRI), EEG and MEG. Researchers from different backgrounds can benefit from an integrative software platform including a supporting framework for data management (generation, organization, storage, integration and sharing) and a simulation core written in Python. TVB allows the reproduction and evaluation of personalized configurations of the brain by using individual subject data. This personalization facilitates an exploration of the consequences of pathological changes in the system, permitting to investigate potential ways to counteract such unfavorable processes. The architecture of TVB supports interaction with MATLAB packages, for example, the well known Brain Connectivity Toolbox. TVB can be used in a client-server configuration, such that it can be remotely accessed through the Internet thanks to its web-based HTML5, JS, and WebGL graphical user interface. TVB is also accessible as a standalone cross-platform Python library and application, and users can interact with the scientific core through the scripting interface IDLE, enabling easy modeling, development and debugging of the scientific kernel. This second interface makes TVB extensible by combining it with other libraries and modules developed by the Python scientific community. In this article, we describe the theoretical background and foundations that led to the development of TVB, the architecture and features of its major software components as well as potential neuroscience applications.

Concepts: Neuroimaging, Neuroscience, Magnetic resonance imaging, Electroencephalography, Java, Functional magnetic resonance imaging, Graphical user interface, Software architecture


The large-scale sharing of task-based functional neuroimaging data has the potential to allow novel insights into the organization of mental function in the brain, but the field of neuroimaging has lagged behind other areas of bioscience in the development of data sharing resources. This paper describes the OpenFMRI project (accessible online at, which aims to provide the neuroimaging community with a resource to support open sharing of task-based fMRI studies. We describe the motivation behind the project, focusing particularly on how this project addresses some of the well-known challenges to sharing of task-based fMRI data. Results from a preliminary analysis of the current database are presented, which demonstrate the ability to classify between task contrasts with high generalization accuracy across subjects, and the ability to identify individual subjects from their activation maps with moderately high accuracy. Clustering analyses show that the similarity relations between statistical maps have a somewhat orderly relation to the mental functions engaged by the relevant tasks. These results highlight the potential of the project to support large-scale multivariate analyses of the relation between mental processes and brain function.

Concepts: Brain, Neuroimaging, Cognitive science, Functional magnetic resonance imaging, Mental process


The ability to transmit, organize, and query information digitally has brought with it the challenge of how to best use this power to facilitate scientific inquiry. Today, few information systems are able to provide detailed answers to complex questions about neuroscience that account for multiple spatial scales, and which cross the boundaries of diverse parts of the nervous system such as molecules, cellular parts, cells, circuits, systems and tissues. As a result, investigators still primarily seek answers to their questions in an increasingly densely populated collection of articles in the literature, each of which must be digested individually. If it were easier to search a knowledge base that was structured to answer neuroscience questions, such a system would enable questions to be answered in seconds that would otherwise require hours of literature review. In this article, we describe, a wiki-based website and knowledge management system. Its goal is to bring neurobiological knowledge into a framework that allows neuroscientists to review the concepts of neuroscience, with an emphasis on multiscale descriptions of the parts of nervous systems, aggregate their understanding with that of other scientists, link them to data sources and descriptions of important concepts in neuroscience, and expose parts that are still controversial or missing. To date, the site is tracking ~25,000 unique neuroanatomical parts and concepts in neurobiology spanning experimental techniques, behavioral paradigms, anatomical nomenclature, genes, proteins and molecules. Here we show how the structuring of information about these anatomical parts in the nervous system can be reused to answer multiple neuroscience questions, such as displaying all known GABAergic neurons aggregated in NeuroLex or displaying all brain regions that are known within NeuroLex to send axons into the cerebellar cortex.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Psychology, Neuron, Brain, Neuroscience, Human brain, Neurobiology


In this paper we propose a web-based approach for quick visualization of big data from brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans using a combination of an automated image capture and processing system, nonlinear embedding, and interactive data visualization tools. We draw upon thousands of MRI scans captured via the COllaborative Imaging and Neuroinformatics Suite (COINS). We then interface the output of several analysis pipelines based on structural and functional data to a t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE) algorithm which reduces the number of dimensions for each scan in the input data set to two dimensions while preserving the local structure of data sets. Finally, we interactively display the output of this approach via a web-page, based on data driven documents (D3) JavaScript library. Two distinct approaches were used to visualize the data. In the first approach, we computed multiple quality control (QC) values from pre-processed data, which were used as inputs to the t-SNE algorithm. This approach helps in assessing the quality of each data set relative to others. In the second case, computed variables of interest (e.g., brain volume or voxel values from segmented gray matter images) were used as inputs to the t-SNE algorithm. This approach helps in identifying interesting patterns in the data sets. We demonstrate these approaches using multiple examples from over 10,000 data sets including (1) quality control measures calculated from phantom data over time, (2) quality control data from human functional MRI data across various studies, scanners, sites, (3) volumetric and density measures from human structural MRI data across various studies, scanners and sites. Results from (1) and (2) show the potential of our approach to combine t-SNE data reduction with interactive color coding of variables of interest to quickly identify visually unique clusters of data (i.e., data sets with poor QC, clustering of data by site) quickly. Results from (3) demonstrate interesting patterns of gray matter and volume, and evaluate how they map onto variables including scanners, age, and gender. In sum, the proposed approach allows researchers to rapidly identify and extract meaningful information from big data sets. Such tools are becoming increasingly important as datasets grow larger.

Concepts: Brain, Medical imaging, Brain tumor, Nuclear magnetic resonance, Magnetic resonance imaging, Radiology, Voxel, Output


Motion correction is the first step in a pipeline of algorithms to analyze calcium imaging videos and extract biologically relevant information, for example the network structure of the neurons therein. Fast motion correction is especially critical for closed-loop activity triggered stimulation experiments, where accurate detection and targeting of specific cells in necessary. We introduce a novel motion-correction algorithm which uses a Fourier-transform approach, and a combination of judicious downsampling and the accelerated computation of many L 2 norms using dynamic programming and two-dimensional, fft-accelerated convolutions, to enhance its efficiency. Its accuracy is comparable to that of established community-used algorithms, and it is more stable to large translational motions. It is programmed in Java and is compatible with ImageJ.

Concepts: Algorithm, Computer, Computer program, Computer science, Programming language, Computer programming, Motion, Memoization


The diffusion model is a commonly used tool to infer latent psychological processes underlying decision-making, and to link them to neural mechanisms based on response times. Although efficient open source software has been made available to quantitatively fit the model to data, current estimation methods require an abundance of response time measurements to recover meaningful parameters, and only provide point estimates of each parameter. In contrast, hierarchical Bayesian parameter estimation methods are useful for enhancing statistical power, allowing for simultaneous estimation of individual subject parameters and the group distribution that they are drawn from, while also providing measures of uncertainty in these parameters in the posterior distribution. Here, we present a novel Python-based toolbox called HDDM (hierarchical drift diffusion model), which allows fast and flexible estimation of the the drift-diffusion model and the related linear ballistic accumulator model. HDDM requires fewer data per subject/condition than non-hierarchical methods, allows for full Bayesian data analysis, and can handle outliers in the data. Finally, HDDM supports the estimation of how trial-by-trial measurements (e.g., fMRI) influence decision-making parameters. This paper will first describe the theoretical background of the drift diffusion model and Bayesian inference. We then illustrate usage of the toolbox on a real-world data set from our lab. Finally, parameter recovery studies show that HDDM beats alternative fitting methods like the χ(2)-quantile method as well as maximum likelihood estimation. The software and documentation can be downloaded at:

Concepts: Scientific method, Estimation theory, Maximum likelihood, Statistical inference, Bayes' theorem, Likelihood function, Bayesian statistics


Imaging genetics is an emerging field in which the association between genes and neuroimaging-based quantitative phenotypes are used to explore the functional role of genes in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology in the context of healthy function and neuropsychiatric disorders. The main obstacle for researchers in the field is the high dimensionality of the data in both the imaging phenotypes and the genetic variants commonly typed. In this article, we develop a novel method that utilizes Gene Ontology, an online database, to select and prioritize certain genes, employing a stratified false discovery rate (sFDR) approach to investigate their associations with imaging phenotypes. sFDR has the potential to increase power in genome wide association studies (GWAS), and is quickly gaining traction as a method for multiple testing correction. Our novel approach addresses both the pressing need in genetic research to move beyond candidate gene studies, while not being overburdened with a loss of power due to multiple testing. As an example of our methodology, we perform a GWAS of hippocampal volume using both the Enhancing NeuroImaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA2) and the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative datasets. The analysis of ENIGMA2 data yielded a set of SNPs with sFDR values between 10 and 20%. Our approach demonstrates a potential method to prioritize genes based on biological systems impaired in a disease.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Evolution, Biology, Organism, Genome


Neuroscience currently lacks a comprehensive theory of how cognitive processes can be implemented in a biological substrate. The Neural Engineering Framework (NEF) proposes one such theory, but has not yet gathered significant empirical support, partly due to the technical challenge of building and simulating large-scale models with the NEF. Nengo is a software tool that can be used to build and simulate large-scale models based on the NEF; currently, it is the primary resource for both teaching how the NEF is used, and for doing research that generates specific NEF models to explain experimental data. Nengo 1.4, which was implemented in Java, was used to create Spaun, the world’s largest functional brain model (Eliasmith et al., 2012). Simulating Spaun highlighted limitations in Nengo 1.4’s ability to support model construction with simple syntax, to simulate large models quickly, and to collect large amounts of data for subsequent analysis. This paper describes Nengo 2.0, which is implemented in Python and overcomes these limitations. It uses simple and extendable syntax, simulates a benchmark model on the scale of Spaun 50 times faster than Nengo 1.4, and has a flexible mechanism for collecting simulation results.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Cognition, Simulation, Operations research, Computer graphics, Simulation123, Mathematical model