MAR 18, 2015 03:00 PM PDT

The Human Connectome Project

Presented At Neuroscience
  • Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine
      Dr. Van Essen is currently Edison Professor and Head of the Anatomy & Neurobiology Department at Washington University in St. Louis. He has served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Neuroscience, founding chair of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, and President of the Society for Neuroscience. He is a fellow of the AAAS and has received the Peter Raven Lifetime Achievement Award from the St. Louis Academy of Science and the Krieg Cortical Discoverer Award from the Cajal Club. Dr. Van Essen received his undergraduate degree in Chemistry in 1967 from Caltech and his graduate degree in neurobiology in 1971 from Harvard. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard under Drs. David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel and did additional postdoctoral work in Norway and England before returning to Caltech in 1976. He was a faculty member in the Division of Biology at Caltech until 1992, during which time he served as Executive Officer for Neurobiology (1982-1989) and Option Representative for the Computation and Neural Systems program (1986-1991). In 1992 he became Edison Professor of Neurobiology and Head of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Van Essen is internationally known for his research on how the brain organizes and processes visual information. He has made extensive contributions to the understanding of how the brain perceives shape, motion and color and how attention affects neural activity. His work has helped to demonstrate that the brain contains dozens of different areas involved in vision and that these areas are interconnected by hundreds of distinct neural pathways. He and his colleagues have developed powerful new techniques in computerized brain mapping to analyze these visual areas in humans as well as nonhuman primates. This work includes the continued development of an integrated suite of software tools for surface-based analyses of cerebral cortex. These methods are applied to the analysis of cortical structure and function in humans, monkeys and rodents. A broad objective is to develop probabilistic surface-based atlases that accurately convey commonalities as well as differences between individuals.


    Recent advances in noninvasive neuroimaging have set the stage for the systematic exploration of human brain circuits in health and disease. The Human Connectome Project (HCP) is systematically characterizing brain circuitry, its variability, and its relation to behavior in a population of 1,200 healthy adults (twins and their non-twin siblings). This talk will review progress by the HCP consortium in acquiring, analyzing, and freely sharing these massive and highly informative datasets. The HCP obtains information about structural and functional connectivity using diffusion MRI and resting-state fMRI, respectively. Additional modalities include task-evoked fMRI and MEG, plus extensive behavioral testing and genotyping. Each of these methods is powerful, yet faces significant technical limitations that are important to characterize and be mindful of when interpreting neuroimaging data. Advanced visualization and analysis methods developed by the HCP enable characterization of brain circuits in individuals and group averages at high spatial resolution and at the level of functionally distinct brain parcels and brain networks. Comparisons across subjects are beginning to reveal aspects of brain circuitry that are heritable or are related to particular behavioral capacities. Data from the HCP is being made freely available to the neuroscience community via a user-friendly informatics platform. Altogether, the HCP is providing invaluable information about the healthy human brain and its variability.

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