Aalto Neuroimaging Infrastructure

I was unable to attend either of this week excursions, so I had to resort to doing some research about ANI on my own.

Aalto Neuroimaging Infrastructure consists of four functional neuroimaging modalities: navigated transcranial magnetic stimulation (nTMS) at Aalto TMS, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at Advanced Magnetic Imaging (AMI) Centre, magnetoencephalography (MEG) at MEG Core, and Aalto Behavioral Laboratory.

MEG Core offers excellent environment for magnetoencephalographic (MEG ) measurements. MEG Core has a modern 306-channel MEG device (Elekta Neuromag™, Elekta Oy, Helsinki, Finland) in a high-end 3-layered magneticaly shielded room (Imedco AG, Hägendorf, Switzerland). MEG Core has extremely low magnetic ambient noise level. MEG Core has a wide variety of MEG-compatible stimulators and monitoring devices.

Aalto TMS offers researchers unique possibilities for multi-modal neuroimaging techniques. The laboratory contains top-of-the-line electroencelography (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) systems. Neuronavigated TMS-system with two stimulation units and various coils makes numerous TMS and rTMS examination setups possible.

Aalto Behavioral Laboratory (ABL) has various different monitoring and stimulus systems for behavioral studies in controlled environment. The laboratory consists of two measurement rooms: a shielded room which is especially intended for EEG and remote eye tracking measurements; and a room for behavioral measurements which doesn’t require shielded conditions.

AMI Centre maintains a research-dedicated 3T-MRI scanner, develops and maintains the related infrastructure and offers services to multiple research teams. Typical measurements at AMI Centre include functional and structural brain imaging or diffusion tensor imaging. In addition, AMI Centre develops new methods and applications of MRI technology.

Posted by Pavel Filippov

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Visiting Sooma Medical

The excursion to Sooma medical was at walking distance from my home so I had no excuse to not attend it. So I did.

Sooma Medical gave us a presentation on transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS in short. They described their method as placing electrodes on the head and applying a small amount of current for roughly 30 minutes, five times a week for three weeks. They showed us the tools they use to do this, and showed some results of their experiments using this treatment. All in all it seemed reasonably convincing that this probably has some positive effect on depression, and doesn’t have any strong negative side-effects.

The second part of the presentation, where they talked about people using tDCS for anything and everything, wasn’t very convincing to me, and could have probably been left out of the talk. When you mention Michael Phelps using tDCS to improve his performance, my bullshit-detectors activate automatically, and I feel like someone is going to try to sell essential oils to me. Generally, however, the sentiment seemed to simply be that these are some interesting things that people are trying to do using tDCS, and they may or may not work.

Finally, I can’t help but feel that this method is still somewhat primitive, like we’re poking the brain with a stick and seeing what happens, but I suppose we have to work with what we have.

Posted by Teemu

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More on neurotransmitters

The course is moving towards online participation, which greatly helps us who has occasional work related commitments also. Great upgrade!

For the subject matter, we are diving to more interesting topics as we deepen the neurotransmitter systems learning.

For me personally, these different kinds of connections are somewhat familiar already by personal study of the Bio hacking, the most recent Silicon valley based fab.

The course material deepens my understanding and makes new connections that I didnt know before. My main interests for this course is to learn how different substances affect my mood, behavior and actions. Is there cure for winter blues that we Finnish suffer from every year. Are the superfoods just placebo, what even is placebo effect? These are my personal concerns that i wish to find the answer to.

The science and theory is interesting obviously, but as an engineer, the everyday applications interest me the most. I hope we continue with more sprinkled hands on examples to bring more understanding to our lives in addition to our knowledge of the brain.

Posted by Aleksi

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Auditory system

The course keeps moving on, and this week we learned about the auditory and the vestibular system. Personally, I missed the lecture, so I read the chapter in the book. The title is because I mostly skipped the parts about the vestibular system, sorry. 😛

I found the part about sound localization particularly interesting. Somehow I thought, that interaural time delay was all that was needed for proper sound localization. Obviously, I had not thought very hard about it. So, reading about how interaural intensity difference caused by the sound shadow created by the head is used to help detect horizontal location was slightly mindblowing. Additionally, the way that the time difference is (possibly?) encoded in neural spikes was, although a little difficult to follow, also fascinating.

And finally, I learned about why the human outer ear is so strangely shaped, and it apparently has to do with localizing sounds from vertical directions. That is, the shape of the ear apparently reflects sound from different vertical directions so that it allows the auditory system to localize the sound. Everything makes much more sense now. Lastly, I will always remember the fact that owls localize vertical sounds better because their ears are at different heights on their head, allowing them to use the same techniques we use for horizontal sound localization.

Posted by Teemu

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Eye and visual information processing

This week we learned many a thing about visual information processing starting from the structure-function relations of eye all the way to further information processing in the human brain.

One exciting thing that was new to me is the basis of light energy conversion into changes in membrane potential  – the process known as phototransduction. Even though process behind light transformation into membrane potential is somewhat different for two different kinds of photoreceptor cells (namely rods and cones), they still have quite a lot in common. Both are initiated when light photon gets absorbed by a photoreceptor. This changes photoreceptors conformation, which leads to a biochemical cascade causing the closing of Na+ channels and thus the cell membrane hyperpolarizes. This causes an action potential, which proceeds down the optic nerve and optic tract all the way to primary visual cortex which situates in the back of the forebrain. One interesting thing about visual information processing in the brain is that the input from right eye is processed in the primary visual cortex of left hemisphere and vice versa.

Considering the complexity of visual information processing machinery in human bodies, no wonder there is so many different kinds of eye-function disorders. While some of the these are already fixable with modern medical technology, there is still no treatment for some others.


Posted by Pavel Filippov

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Neurotransmitters – the natural messangers

Being unable to attend this week lecture nor exercise session, I had to study this week’s material by reading the course book by myself (that I do every week and I have to admit that my brain is better at learning by reading rather than listening). One thing I also enjoy a lot by reading the book is that, on top of invaluable theory, authors also provide interesting examples as well as history of discoveries.

This week I learnt many exciting things about neurotransmitters, including their synthesis, release (and metabolism that follows) as well as their action in postsynaptic neuron (or cells in general). Concepts are pretty easy to grasp, but I personally find it somehow challenging to learn all the terminology.

Being the kind of person who has every now and then difficulties with getting things started (meaning procrastination/laziness) and relating to things I learned about catecholamines and especially dopamine – a neurotransmitter, that is resposible for (among other things) self-rewarding and personal motivation, I started to wonder whether I might have some sort of imbalance in my dopamine systems. 😀 Might it be that in the future they will invent some sort of a pharmaceutical drug that makes people more motivated at studying/working? (I have heard about amphetamines and the way they can make you more motivated for a period of time, but I would rather look for some less harmful solution and more sustainable solution).

That’s about it for this week, until next time.




Posted by Pavel Filippov

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The greatest machine

This week we learned about synaptic transmission, along with learning about action potentials in the previous week’s lecture. We’re now getting into the area that I find most interesting: information processing in the brain.

It’s sometimes said that the artificial neural networks used in machine learning are a simplification of real neural networks. At this point, I would already agree with that.  There’s a lot going on in the brain, and it’s a little difficult to keep track of all the terminology, or to remember what every different thing does.

Because I never come up with questions during the lectures, I decided to write down some interesting ones that came to mind that I would like to understand.

What is the purpose of sleep? How does it work? What about dreams? Or all the other stages of sleep? Could sleep be induced artificially in people?

How about memory, how does it work? How are short-term memory and long term memory different? How feasible would it be to read memories from brains?

How did the brain evolve? How does the brain develop as we grow up? How do mental diseases come about?

We probably will not learn answers to these questions during the course, but it’s definitely a first step towards understanding.

Posted by Teemu

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The action potential has been created (First post)

The learning channels are truly open as the course “Structure and operation of the human brain” kicked of with the start of the autumn semester. For me personally, this is the first course in the Human Neuroscience and Technology minor and really a first course in anything related to chemistry or human anatomy since the high school.

After the first shock of reading the lecture notes with many colorful pictures of cells and nucleus and whatnots, the motivation to learn and really understand what is going on behind my eyes has really kicked in, generating almost an existential crisis when I truly grasped the complexity (and fragility) inside my scull and around my body.

So far we have learned the basics about neurons, neurites and how the signals are generated and moved through axons by a process called action potential and between neurons within synapses. The first steps on the long road before my brain starts to really understand itself.

Since the course is only starting, Im not even sure what kinds of questions to ask. The course book is really thorough but the lectures have felt so far a bit chaotic with two people talking (sometimes the sound is bit low without a microphone) and the questions sometimes interfering the natural flow. Also the exercise questions seemed sometimes a bit off (how will solving these equations aid my understanding of the basic processes?). However these have only been small hiccups that are far out-weighted by the fact, that learning all these new things is just really exciting!

How I imagine the course will continue would be best presented in a popular and very relevant meme:

Until next time.

Posted by Aleksi

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