MBI Neuroimaging Pilot Grant Awardees

The McKnight Brain Institute is pleased to congratulate our 2014 Neuroimaging Pilot Grant Awardees

The MBI Neuroimaging Pilot Grants were established to support pilot studies using the AMRIS facility or developing novel neuroimaging capabilities.  Five winners were selected and will each receive $25,000 for one year.

In no particular order:

“Imaging the Functional Neural Circuits of Dystonia”

Dr. Yuqing Li, Department of Neurology

Dr. David Vaillancourt, Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology

Dr. Marcelo Febo, Department of Psychiatry

This Pilot grant will bring three laboratories from three different departments together to study common neural circuits involved in dystonia pathogenesis using neural imaging resources available at McKnight Brain Institute. The Li lab has been working on animal models and pathophysiology of dystonia since 2000 and developed several lines of mouse dystonia models that will be used in this collaborative study. Vaillancourt lab has been working on two NIH-funded studies on imaging of PD and tremor and the current proposal will extend their studies to dystonia. The Febo lab is very experienced in imaging animal models of neuropsychiatric disorders. Their goal is to use the fund to forge collaborations among the three laboratories and to collect necessary preliminary data and publications to submit a large R01 or NIH project grant.


“Functional Mapping of Novel Bone Marrow-Brain Interactions: Therapeutic Role for Neuroinflammation”

Dr. Jasenka Zubcevic, Department of Physiology and Functional Genomics

Dr. Marcelo Febo, Department of Psychiatry

Dr. Mohan Raizada, Department of Physiology and Functional Genomics

Dr. Jasenka Zubcevic’s research investigates the role of the autonomic nervous system in control of blood pressure in health and in cardiovascular disease. Her recent work indicated that altered bone marrow sympathetic drive is associated with dysfunctional bone marrow progenitor cells and an increase in both systemic and neuroinflammation in rodent models of treatment-resistant hypertension. Using the MBI Neuroimmaging award, Dr. Zubcevic aims to elucidate the role of a novel sensory afferent signaling from the bone marrow to the brainstem in perpetuating the symptoms of neuroinflammation in hypertension as well as in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.


“Real-Time and Quantitative Monitoring of mRNAs in a Single Neural Cell”

Dr. Weihong Tan, Center for Research at Bio/Nano Interface, Department of Chemistry

Dr. Leonid L. Moroz, The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, Dept. of Neuroscience

MBI Neuroimaging Pilot Grant awarded to Dr. Weihong Tan and Dr. Leonid L. Moroz to study visualizing how a brain works, at the molecular level in a single neuron cell. Dr. Weihong Tan, a biotechnology innovator, and Dr. Leonid L. Moroz, a neurobiologist, has proposed to develop a Molecular Beacon Micelle Flare (MBMF) for real-time imaging of mRNA expression in a single living neuron. Responding to President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative, this proposed technology would allow scientists to elucidate how a brain works at the molecular level, simply by watching a “thinking” neuron.


“High Angular Resolution Imaging of Cervical Respiratory Pathway following Spinal Cord”

Dr. David Fuller, Department of Physical Therapy

Dr. John Forder, Department of Radiology

Dr. Baba Vemuri, Department of Computer & Information Sciences

Dr. Ronald Mandel, Department of Neuroscience

This project combines expertise in SCI modeling and respiratory neurophysiology (D.D. Fuller, Dept. of Physical Therapy,), MRI imaging (J. Forder, Depts. of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering), mathematical assessment of MRI data (B. Vemuri, Dept. of  Computer & Information Science & Engineering), and AAV gene therapy for neurological disorders (R. Mandel, Dept. of Neuroscience).  Drs. Vemuri and Forder have recently developed novel computational methods for visualizing spinal axonal bundles using high angular resolution images (HARDI).  The overarching goal of this project is to determine if these MRI tractography methods can quantify changes in axonal pathways to respiratory motoneurons following cervical SCI.  We will also couple the MRI imaging with an adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated approach designed to enhance axonal growth in spinal pathways.  These spinal gene transfer experiments are designed to enhance respiratory plasticity and recovery, and to determine if the HARDI analysis methods can detect AAV-mediated changes in the spinal cord.


“Enhancing Positive Affect: Learned Control of the Brain’s Appetitive Circuit Using Read-Time fMRI Neurofeedback”

Dr. Ranganatha Sitaram, Department of Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Peter Lang, Director, Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention

Dr. Margaret Bradley, Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention

The project’s broad aim is to use real-time fMRI (rt-fMRI) neurofeedback to elucidate the neural circuits mediating emotional experience and expression, and provide a foundation for possible use of Brain-Computer Interfaces in the evaluation and treatment of mood disorders. The proposal is motivated by a conjunction of our laboratories, joining significant new technological developments in BCI/rt-fMRI (R. Sitaram) with programmatic clinical research with anxiety/mood disorders (P.J. Lang and M. Bradley). Previous studies have significantly advanced understanding of emotional imagery’s effect on the body’s reflex physiology (heartbeat, skin conductance and startle response); subjective reports of affect, and importantly, on the brain’s neural circuitry in both healthy individuals and patients. This proposal achieves the MBI Neuroimaging Pilot Grant’s goals in developing novel neuroimaging capabilities and by using AMRIS research facility. This project would build tools and methodology of real-time fMRI based closed loop control using which cortical and subcortical brain regions could be modulated, either for fundamental neuroscience investigations of the brain and behavior, or in clinical and translational applications.