“The Emergence of Cognition” at OHBM 2015

The lab is happy to announce a workshop at the Organization of Human Brain Mapping’s meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, with some fantastic speakers, from the US, UK, France and Canada.

This will be a great meeting for fetal and infant neuroimaging more generally as there is also another symposium organized by Veronika Schöpf. The program excerpts from both are below.


Monday 15 June, 8.00-9.00am

Organizer: Rhodri Cusack

Western University, London, Canada

There is growing evidence that many of the brain networks seen in adults have emerged by the typical age of birth. This includes not just sensory and motor networks, but those associated with higher-level cognition, such as the language, task-positive and task-negative networks. Establishing when these networks emerge, and their properties and initial functions, will enhance understanding of their roles throughout the lifespan. Furthermore, knowing the healthy trajectory of development is a prerequisite for early detection and characterization of the abnormalities that lead to developmental disabilities, which will in turn facilitate more effective earlier interventions.

This workshop brings together four methodologies that have recently yielded exciting advances. We report the structural emergence of networks using diffusion tractography and graph theory, revealing early network organisation already present in the preterm brain. With resting-state fMRI, we find these structural networks are active around the normal time of birth. The functions of two networks are then studied using auditory and visual stimulation with fMRI and EEG, showing that complex sound classification, and an elementary form of conscious-level processing, are operative in the first months. Taken together, these converging results reveal that a rich set of neurocognitive functions has emerged in young infants, which was largely inaccessible to investigation before infant neuroimaging.

Our aim is that attendees of the workshop will be able to summarize the emergence of cognition in young infants, the relevance of this to cognitive and clinical neuroscience, and the methodological advances that have made infant neuroimaging possible.

Learning Objectives:
This morning workshop is designed to develop participants’ understanding of:

  1. Enhanced understanding the ontogenesis of cognitive functions in the human brain
  2. Enhanced understanding of the emergence of networks in the developing brain and their potential role in neurodevelopmental outcomes.
  3. Improved knowledge of techniques for testing cognitive functions using neuroimaging in non-verbal and non-compliant subjects

Target Audience:
Our target audience comprises those interested in cognitive neuroscience, neurodevelopmental outcomes, or methods for neuroimaging acquisition and analysis in non-compliant populations.

Structural Connectivity and Network Development in the Preterm Brain
Gareth Ball, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom

Resting fMRI During Infancy: Exploring the Emerging Functional Organization of the Developing Brain
Christopher Smyser, Washington University, St Louis, MO, United States

The Emergence of Auditory-Language Function from Birth to Nine Months
Rhodri Cusack, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada

Hierarchical Processing in the Infant Brain
Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, Neurospin, Gif/Yvette, France 


Wednesday 17 June, 14.45-16.00pm

Organizer: Veronika Schöpf

Institute of Psychology, Section Neuropsychology, University of Graz; Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

Observing the fetal and infant brain offers unique insights into early development of cerebral structures. Furthermore, research progress in this area will pave the way for defining imaging biomarkers as reference points for disease progression or therapeutic success. Recently, we begin to be able to integrate functional and structural information from imaging modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging and magnetoencephalography data of fetuses and infants. In addition to image acquisition and multiple layers of physiological artifacts, we face a number of challenges specific to studying the developing brain such as rapid development over time and corresponding variability not only in space but also with regard to tissue properties and individual timing. Due to those reasons preprocessing strategies, computational models and paradigm designs cannot be transferred directly from adult studies. This symposium will explore methodologies that contribute to capturing and understanding the fetal and infant brain, the emerging connectome, pre-processing strategies and modeling approaches.

Learning Objectives:
This symposium is designed to develop participants’ understanding of:

  1. State of the art structural and functional neuroimaging of the fetal and infant brain
  2. Understanding the approaches applicable to research questions that tackle fetal and infant brain development
  3. Expand the discussion on how knowledge of normal brain development can help to provide information on pathologies or malformations to offer therapeutic options at the earliest point possible

Target Audience:
Neuroscientists and clinicians interested in computational methods for fetal MRI/MEG and infant MRI and acquisition of such images. Computer scientists working on methods for analyzing neuroimaging data.

An overview of the Developing Human Connectome Project
Daniel Rückert, Department of Computing, Imperial College London, United Kingdom

Image processing tools for infant brain MRI
Lilla Zöllei, Martinos Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States

Perturbations as a tool to investigate the fetal brain
Hubert Preissl, MEG Center, Tuebingen, Germany

Linking the development of fetal brain morphology and function
Georg Langs, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

Visit the OHBM 2015 website.

Postdoctoral and graduate student awards available

cusacklab_infantneuroimagingWould you like work in the lab in an area such as these?

  • The emergence of cognition in the first 1000 days
  • The development of neuroimaging methods for newborns and infants
  • The effects of perinatal brain injury

If you have had a PhD for no more than three years, please consider applying for a Western Cognitive Neuroscience Postdoctoral Fellowship.

If you are interested in graduate studies (Masters or PhD), please apply through Psychology, Neuroscience, or Medical Biophysics. If you are a student from outside Canada you may also be eligible for a Western International Graduate Student Award

Please contact rhodri@cu****lab.org for more information.

Time to wave goodbye to phase scrambling

skatesBobby Stojanoski’s paper came out in the Journal of Vision this week. When investigating the recognition of visual objects with neuroimaging, it is often necessary to have control stimuli matched in visual features, but lacking meaning. Using the HMAX model of early visual processing, we show that three ways commonly used to create control stimuli, phase-, box- and texture- scrambling are poorly matched, even at the earliest stages of the visual system. We propose an alternative using diffeomorphic transformations, that yields visually well matched control stimuli while removing meaning. wavegoodbyehmax

Unlike other scrambling methods, diffeomorphic stimuli were found to yield a similar overall level of activity in the simulated neurons of the HMAX model, with a pattern and a distribution for objects and scrambled objects that could not be distinguished by a linear discriminant classifier.

Hitchcock probes consciousness

title_thumbnail600The lab is excited by the response to our method of detecting consciousness through the brain’s response to watching an Alfred Hitchcock short film. It has been featured up by the scientific media (Nature, Science), television (CBC, CTV), the press (The Times, Globe and Mail, London Free Press, Macleans, The Verge), in blogs (iflscience.org) and on social media.

Frequently asked questions

Why Hitchcock?
It is important for our method that each moment in the film evokes similar thoughts and emotions in different people. Good film directors are skilled at leading the minds of their viewers in a particular direction – and Hitchcock is The Master. This means that at the time in the film when one person is drawn in by the suspense, and their brain activity peaks, others will be too.

Why suspense?
In suspense films, in the most tense parts of the movie, there isn’t a great deal of visual motion or activity on the screen. This means that we can separate the brain’s response to tension and its response to visual events.  Furthermore, for the neuroimaging to be sensitive, we need some parts of the movie that are exciting and elicit strong brain activity, and other parts that are calm. Suspense movies have this pattern.

Why Bang! You’re dead.
This movie was recommended by Uri Hasson. We needed a shorter version for scanning in patients, and so I edited it from 30 to 8 minutes long, while keeping the story broadly intact. This was my crime, and so I’m sorry, Alfred.

Who were the vegetative patients?
jeff_tremblay_macleansThe male patient, who showed a conscious response to the movie, was Jeff Tremblay, who is 35 years old, and has been unable to respond since suffering a cardiac arrest after being kicked in the chest in August 1997. You may read more about the family in Macleans. The female patient, who did not show evidence of consciousness, was 20 years old, and has chosen to remain anonymous.

lori_press_2cHow did you separate different brain networks?
In a group of 12 healthy adults, we used a method called Independent Components Analysis (ICA) to find brain networks that showed statistically independent patterns of change over time. As all of the people were watching the same movie (and provided Alfred has done his job) then we expected them to show the same time-course of brain activity (see different colours, to the left). We were able to use this additional information by using a method for called Tensor Independent Components Analysis, as implemented in software from Oxford University.


Naci, L., Cusack, R., Anello, M., Owen A.M. (in press). A common neural code for similar conscious experiences in different individuals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Welcome to the lab

Welcome to Michelle Tran and Jordynne Ropat, who’ve joined the lab as Master’s students, and to Claire Chambers, a postdoctoral researcher with funding from the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus Student Exchange Network in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience.

Lab photo September 2014

Clockwise from top left: Conor Wild, Annika Linke, Bobby Stojanoski, Jordynne Ropat, Jacob Matthews, Laura Cabral, Rhodri Cusack, Hester Duffy, Michelle Tran, Leire Zubiaurre Elorza, Claire Chambers

Little brains symposium at Society for Research in Child Development

Thanks to everyone that attended the “Little Brains” symposium at the Society for Research in Child Development‘s Fall meeting on methodology. And thank you to Charlotte Herzmann, who organized the symposium, and to the other speakers Christopher Smyser (Washington University School of Medicine), Elizabeth Redcay (University of Maryland) and John Flournoy (University of Oregon).


We’d like to thank a number of organizations for supporting our work this summer:

  • The Children’s Health Research Institute and Research Western for seed funding for new projects
  • The CIHR (for supporting Charlotte Herzmann at the Human Brain Mapping conference), the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (for supporting Conor Wild), and the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience (for supporting Leire Zubiaurre Elorza), all travel awards.
  • CIHR for a studentship (to Laura Cabral).

Cusacklab hits #OHBM2014

If you’re at Human Brain Mapping in Hamburg, please come and see the lab’s latest work. Or leave a comment/ send me an email if you’d like a copy.

Poster 1715. Whole Brain Dynamic Network Analysis in Real-time During Video Viewing. Jingyun Chen, Jinhui Qin, Rhodri Cusack, Mark Daley
A collaboration with IBM Canada, in which we’ve streamed MRI data into a cloud-based supercomputer for real-time whole brain network analysis.

Poster 3638. Automatic analysis (aa) pipelines: new features for large, multimodal datasets. Tibor Auer, Alejandro Vicente-Grabovetsky, Daniel Mitchell, Conor Wild, Annika Linke, Jonathan Peelle, Rhodri Cusack
Describes the latest innovations in our aa software, which is a collaboration with the MRC in Cambridge UK, the Donders Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Netherlands, and Washington St Louis, USA. See also www.github.com/rhodricusack/automaticanalysis

Poster 4372. Hitchcock probes changes in cortical auditory processing through the lifespan Charlotte Herzmann, Leire Zubiaurre-Elorza, Cam-CAN, Rhodri Cusack.

Poster 4385. Beyond the Resting State: Age Differences in Neural Networks Identified during Naturalistic Viewing. Karen Campbell, Meredith Shafto, Paul Wright, Kamen Tsvetanov, Rhodri Cusack, Cam-CAN, Lorraine K. Tyler.
Some of our first exciting results from the Cam CAN study of cortical changes through the lifespan with MRI from 700 participants aged 18-88 years.