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MIT researchers to use Elekta Neuromag system to study neural basis of brain disorders

June 03, 2019

Prof. John Gabrieli, director of the Martinos Imaging Center, will use MEG to study the neural and genetic basis of autism, dyslexia and other developmental disorders. By combining MEG with other brain imaging modalities, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG), Dr. Gabrieli plans to search for differences in brain activation in subjects with different genetic variants that have been linked to these conditions. "Our goal is to correlate the changes in brain function with genetic risk factors, and in turn identify categories of patients for whom optimal treatment strategies could be tailored," he says. Prof. Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute, plans to study the neural basis of attention. Animal studies have indicated that high frequency brain waves known as gamma oscillations become synchronized across brain areas as these areas communicate with each other to control attention. He plans to extend this work to humans using MEG, and he hopes that this will provide new insights into the basis of diseases such as schizophrenia. "Gamma oscillations are disrupted in schizophrenia, and we think this may help explain why people with schizophrenia often experience difficulty organizing their thoughts and perceptions into a coherent and meaningful whole," Dr. Desimone explains. Prof. Christopher Moore, an investigator at the McGovern Institute, seeks to understand how the cerebral cortex processes rapid sensory information. Based on his work on cortical circuitry, Dr. Moore has developed a biophysical model to account for the MEG signal. "Our aim is to link the signals that we can record from human subjects to the underlying brain mechanisms that give rise to those signals," he says. "Arguably, we will never fully understand normal cognition or the ways that cognition fails in brain disorders unless we can achieve this deep circuit understanding."

Other MIT faculty members expect to use the new MEG facility for a variety of studies, including MEG source localization; the neural basis of age-related changes in cognition; how individuals differ in their processing of social cues such as faces; cognitive deficits in autism spectrum disorder; the processing of complex visual scenes; neural mechanisms of speech and comprehension; how children and adults infer and reason about the mental states of other people; neural mechanisms of motor control and many other studies.

"In many ways the brain is a 'black box.' It is so complex -- comprising 100 billion neurons and a trillion or more synapses -- it's not surprising it's challenging to study," Dr. Jennings notes. "But with MEG I think we'll succeed in shining a little light in there."