Brain Imaging Grants

Brain Imaging Grants provide CLA faculty members and students working in research areas related to brain imaging an opportunity to fund pilot projects with seed grants or to purchase items related to ongoing infrastructure needs. The Neuroimaging Research Associate, Phil Burton, promotes and facilitates neuroimaging research among faculty, students, and research staff within the College of Liberal Arts and is available to assist Brain Imaging Grant Applicants and awardees.

Neuroimaging Research Associate

CLA researchers in psychology, economics, political science, speech-language-hearing sciences, and other departments have historically studied human perception, language, emotion, and decision making processes by measuring behaviors and making inferences about underlying mental processes. With recent rapid advances in noninvasive neuroimaging technology, these same researchers are becoming increasingly interested in measuring more directly the brain activity that underlies these processes. The CLA Neuroimaging Research Associate provides expertise as well as specialized hardware and software resources to facilitate this transition. Please note that these services are available to researchers in all CLA departments, including those that have not conventionally taken a scientific approach to studying the mind and brain. Services and resources provided include:

Assistance with study design: From safety issues associated with powerful MRI magnets to temporal offsets between stimulus presentation, neural activity, and the signal being measured in fMRI and ERP studies, there are numerous experimental design issues that must be considered in addition to those involved with behavioral measures.

Assistance with data analysis: Specialized software and analysis techniques are necessary for processing and statistically analyzing large and complex datasets. Software supported includes (but is not limited to): AFNI, Brain Voyager, MRIcron, Freesurfer, FSL, SPM.

Acquisition of specialized equipment: This position assesses neuroimaging needs to ensure state-of-the-art resources are available to allow CLA researchers to remain competitive. Past activities include: spearheading the proposal that resulted in the CLA Interdepartmental EEG Facility and contributing to the I3 grant that led to the purchase of the second 3T scanner at the Center for Magnetic Research (CMRR), along with the acquisition of peripheral equipment as needed for EEG and fMRI research. 

Promoting and facilitating neuroimaging research: The Neuroimaging Research Associate coordinates the MRI Users’ Group (MUG), which includes members from multiple University of Minnesota colleges and departments and meets monthly to discuss brain imaging research conducted at the university, and for the annual application for Interdisciplinary Graduate Group.

Spring 2019 Brain Imaging Grant Awardees

Evaluating Prefrontal Dysconnectivity during Persecutory Sociocognitive Processes

Graduate student Anita Kwashie, Psychology
Professor Angus MacDonald III, Psychology

Persecutory delusions have devastating effects on the quality of life and social functioning of people with psychosis. However, there are disparate theories regarding its neural basis. We hypothesize that persecutory delusions arise from a failure of prefrontal network connectivity in integrating disparate cognitive processes. Through examining patient structural and functional connectivity data, in addition to behavioral social cognitive tasks, we aim to examine the relationship between prefrontal network dysconnectivity and social behaviors indicative of irrational persecutory ideation. The results of this study may identify potential targets for future intervention studies aiming to improve the effectiveness of psychosis symptom treatment.

Brain-Based Indicators of Risk for Addiction: A Prospective High-Risk Twin Family Study

Graduate student Sylia Wilson, Psychology

Addiction is associated with substantial negative outcomes and significant impairment in multiple domains of functioning. This project identifies premorbid deviations and altered neurodevelopment in brain circuitry that index risk for addiction and predict substance initiation/misuse, and uses a children of discordant twins study design to differentiate genetic from environmental mechanisms of parent-child transmission. Identifying brain-based vulnerability factors that predict addiction and the causal environmental risk factors conferred to children by addicted parents will guide etiological models and the most targeted and effective prevention and intervention efforts for at-risk children and their families.

Fall 2018 Brain Imaging Grant Awardees

Functional MRI of Long-Lasting Neuroplasticity

Associate Professor Stephen A. Engel, Psychology
Postdoctoral Researcher Katherine E.M. Tregillus, Psychology

Neuroplasticity is a key mechanism for rehabilitation from visual deficits. Yet, methods for producing visual neural plasticity are limited and poorly understood. The proposed research will advance the understanding of neuroplasticity by investigating the underpinnings of the McCollough Effect (ME), a visual illusion produced by viewing colored, oriented patterns. The ME, while small, can endure for weeks, indicating that it produces long-lasting neural changes in the visual system. The ME will be investigated using modern neuroimaging techniques, clarifying its poorly understood neural bases. These results should in turn aid future efforts to produce plastic changes in the visual system.

Cortical representations of harmonic and virtual pitch in humans

Professor Andrew J. Oxenham, Psychology

Despite advances in our understanding of how pitch is perceived, coded, and represented in our auditory system, there are still significant gaps in our basic understanding of how pitch, and especially harmonicity, is represented in the auditory cortex. This proposal requests support for pilot projects using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare cortical activation in response to harmonic and inharmonic tones as well as understanding the representation of global pitch. Furthermore, we aim to use new cutting edge techniques to establish different anatomical properties of the auditory cortex.

Neural Mechanisms of Auditory and Speech Processing Deficits in Children with Autism

PI: Professor Yang Zhang, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences
Co-PIs:  Assistant Professor Sheri Stronach, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences
Assistant Professor Jason Wolff, Educational Psychology
Professor Hui Zou, School of Statistics 

Auditory and speech perception is fundamental to social communication. The key innovative aspect of our autism research is to take into account linguistic diversity (tonal vs. non-tonal language) and potential language-specific processing deficits, which are rarely addressed in the existing literature. To date, our research team has succeeded in securing funding from the Chinese NSF and produced four quality peer-reviewed journal articles on Chinese-speaking children with autism. The current project proposal requests continued support for completing data collection on 20 more English-speaking subjects, which is essential to two new NIH and NSF grant applications. The proposed work will also promote interdisciplinary brain imaging research with strong clinical relevance and societal impact.