Tag Archives: Brain

The human brain and the primate brain are more different than we thought

An international group of scientists has discovered that despite significant similarities, human and primate brains are much different than we previously thought. Specifically, they found that the neocortex microarchitecture was considerably reorganized during the course of the human evolutionary process.

To arrive at this conclusion, a group of scientists from Russia, China and Germany led by Skoltech Professor Philipp Khaitovich examined new gene expression features in different layers of the prefrontal cortex of the human brain and compared their findings with chimpanzee and macaque brains.

While the study of high level cognitive abilities in humans remains a key priority within the fields of medicine and neurobiology, evolutionary changes in brain organization and function remain unresolved. In their recent study, Khaitovich’s team of scientists analyzed the RNA of successive sections of the prefrontal neocortex. They identified more than 2,320 human-specific genes, markers of neocortex layers. Their research revealed some 367 genes that exist in human brains in a completely different layer of the cortex than that found in chimpanzees.

By comparison, a similar study analyzing macaque and chimpanzee brains only revealed 133 genes that exist in a completely different layer of the cortex of the chimpanzee, despite the fact that considerably more time has passed since the evolutionary division of the chimpanzee and the macaque than of the chimpanzee and the human.

Unique features of gene expression in different layers of the human prefrontal cortex make it possible for humans to develop new means of regulating cognitive functions in the context of aging and brain pathologies.

“This work – the creation and analysis of large RNA databases isolated from different layers of the prefrontal cortexes of humans, chimpanzees, and macaques – provides a valuable resource for the scientific community. The discovery of many new, human-specific markers, and the switching of gene expression between neocortical layers became possible due to the comparative-evolutionary approach to molecular mechanisms of cognitive functions,” said Olga Efimova, a Skoltech research scientist and one of the study’s leading authors.

“Our immunohistochemistry analysis revealed that human-specific gene expression changes affected not only neurons but also a wide range of other cells, for example, astrocytes and microglia. It underlines the results of recent studies on the critical role of these cells in information storage and integration,” Olga said.

Khaitovich’s research group is searching for molecular mechanisms specific to the evolution of human cognitive functions. For these purposes, they perform extensive genome, transcriptome, lipidome and metabolome data integration. The data is obtained from the brain samples of modern and ancient humans, as well as related species such as chimpanzees, macaques, and mice.

The results of the study were published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature Neuroscience.

Contact information:
Skoltech Communications
+7 (495) 280 14 81

The biggest mystery of our body can be solved with big data science

The most important and complex part of our body is our brain. Everything that happens in our body, goes through it. Humanity has learned quite a lot about the brain and how it functions, yet there is much much more to learn and discover. MRI and other technologies that were developed through the last decades, give us a lot of raw and coded data about the brain. The biggest challenge facing scientists is to decipher this data. On December 13th Skoltech and ENIGMA held the international workshop “Big Data and the Human Brain”, which presented how big data science can help us better understand our brain. As part of the workshop, the two sides discussed the concept of the joint Skoltech-ENIGMA Center to be inaugurated at Skotlech.

Skoltech President Alexander Kuleshov opens the workshop.

Skoltech President Alexander Kuleshov opens the workshop.

The ENIGMA Consortium is an international effort by leaders worldwide, to bring together researchers in imaging genomics, neurology and psychiatry, to understand brain structure and function, based on MRI, DTI, fMRI, genetic data and many patient populations.

The consortium was initiated at the University of Southern California (USC), and it now consists of over 280 institutions in 35 countries of the world. It combines the data, talents and infrastructure of over 700 scientists working on genome-wide, neuroimaging and clinical data from over 53,000 subjects. Skoltech scientists take part in this international effort.

Director of the ENIGMA Consortium, Paul Thompson, Ph.D.

Director of the ENIGMA Consortium, Paul Thompson, Ph.D.

Skoltech President Alexander Kuleshov opened the workshop with greetings to the participants, but didn’t waste time and invited the first speaker, Director of the ENIGMA Consortium, Paul Thompson, Ph.D., to deliver his presentation.

Dr. Thompson described the complexity of brain research and the efforts made by ENIGMA to understand how the brain works through combination of different mapping methods. He told the audience how this scientific network is connecting research centers around the world. The meta-analysis of information from different data centers, he said, will improve their efficiency.

Prof. Leyla Namazova, Chairman of the Russian Public Academy of Pediatrics.

Prof. Leyla Namazova, Chairman of the Russian Public Academy of Pediatrics.

After Dr. Thompson, it was Prof. Leyla Namazova – Chairman of the Russian Public Academy of Pediatrics, Vice-chairman of the Executive Committee Union of Pediatricians of Russia, and an Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences – who described brain initiatives in Russia, and spoke on her experience of working in pediatrics with ENIGMA-produced data. Prof Namazova was among the organizers of the ENIGMA workshop “Neuroscience in Pediatrics” that was held in the Scientific Center of Children’s Health on December 11-12.

Skoltech Prof. Philipp Khaitovich presents project CoBrain.

Skoltech Prof. Philipp Khaitovich presents project CoBrain.

Next it was Skoltech’s turn to present its part in the research of the brain. First came Prof. Philipp Khaitovich, Associate Director of Skoltech Center for Data Intensive Biomedicine and Biotechology, and described project CoBrain – a large-scale analysis of the brain lipidome in healthy aging and brain disorders – from the point of view of biology. After him came Mikhail Belyaev, a research scientist at Skoltech Center for Computational and Data-Intensive Science and Engineering, who presented the computational point of view of how to analyze Neuroimaging data using big data and deep learning.

Renowned Russian-American scientist, Skoltech Prof. Vladimir Zelman.

Renowned Russian-American scientist, Skoltech Prof. Vladimir Zelman.

The second part of the workshop was opened by Prof. Vladimir Zelman. Prof. Zelman, a renowned Russian-American scientist, and one of the pioneers of neuroanesthesia, is the bridge that connects USC and Skoltech, since he is a professor in both institutions. He spoke about Innovations in Translational Neuroscience, Neurosurgery and Brain Computer Interfaces.

His presentation was followed by Prof. Henrik Walter, a world renowned expert in psychiatry, Professor for Psychiatry, Psychiatric Neuroscience and Neurophilosophy at the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany. Prof. Walter spoke about functional brain connectivity, imaging, and psychiatry.

Prof. Hilleke Hulshoff Pol, chair of ENIGMA-Plasticity.

Prof. Hilleke Hulshoff Pol, chair of ENIGMA-Plasticity.

The last speaker of the day was Prof. Hilleke Hulshoff Pol, world renowned expert in genetics of the human brain, Professor of Neuroscience at the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus, University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands. Prof. Hulshoff Pol, who is also the chair of ENIGMA-Plasticity, talked about international genetic studies of the human brain.

At the end of the workshop, Prof. Zelman described the ties between ENIGMA and Russia: “the brain is so complicated that not only one lab, institute, or university can solve this mystery. It’s really an international magnum effort to find out about human cerebrum.  This is the reason that when we had this ENIGMA at USC, I immediately proposed to Dr. Thompson “let’s go out, we need mathematicians and Russia is famous about mathematicians for centuries”. We immediately contacted Dr. Kuleshov, and he responded very positively. We also contacted Academic City in Novosibirsk, and in three years we developed more interesting projects than 35 other countries in our network. We found support and understanding. This conference is the result of a three-year cooperation. From now on we will have yearly conferences, and I would like it to be not only in Moscow.

The strategic partnership is between USC and Skoltech. Skoltech is a vibrant new kind of university, and I believe it will play a major role as a bridge between countries, not only the United States and Russia, but all over the world. It’s new but it’s already growing”.

Contact information:
Skoltech Communications
+7 (495) 280 14 81

За гранью дисциплин – Found in Translation

Three Skoltech students have taken on a challenge to translate a scientific movie from English to Russian. The film, titled “Beyond Discipline”, is now screened all across Russia as part of the FANK festival of contemporary feature-length scientific films.

“Beyond Discipline” is a project of scientific group of Edinburgh University (Scotland), in which they try to discuss the importance and benefits of interdisciplinary work in science. The film is following the project through a series of interviews with the most interesting representatives of science, education and art of Edinburgh. Two key guests are featured in the film – Peter Higgs, a theoretical physicist, the 2013 Nobel Prize Winner, and Richard Morris, a neurobiologist, the 2016 Brain Prize Winner. The film shows all aspects of interdisciplinarity including positives outcomes as well existing problems and demonstrates a significant demand on interdisciplinary projects for solution of huge modern problems with which humanity faces.

The film was made by Paul Maguire and Sasha Kangasky. Kagansky contacted his friend Anton Krotov, a Skoltech biomed student, and offered him to translate the film for the occasion of the FANK festival. Krotov jumped on the offer and recruited his colleagues Artem Baranovskii and Yulia Mitina, who gladly accepted the challenge.

Anton Krotov told us about the process:

“Sasha (Kagansky) offered me to work on the film together, because last year we already worked on the organization of “Future of Biomedicine 2015” conference in Vladivostok, with participation of invited scientists from Edinburgh University.

“Before I decided to get the work, I watched the film and it seemed pretty interesting to me, with a lot of interesting invited guests for interviews. Not every day you have an opportunity to translate a new film with Peter Higgs, Nobel Prize Winner in physics, have you?  I also thought that to do this job will be good practice in English learning.

“At first, we transcribed all talks to English subtitles and only then we translated it to Russian. The process was interesting but not easy, because this is a documentary film.  You do not find actions of actors but talks with real people, which sometimes express their thoughts in indirect ways. Nevertheless, it was good exercise for us on how to recognize Scottish accent in speeches of interviewees”.

Apart from the process of translation, we asked Anton to relate to the content of the film, and explain why people, especially Skoltech students, should watch the film. “”Beyond discipline” discusses the role of interdisciplinarity in our world and there are several good examples of the perfect application of interdisciplinarity for solutions of some big problems”, he replies, “The filmmakers try to convince you that if you want solve a problem, you should go out from your discipline and meet and work with other people from different fields. I suppose that interdisciplinarity is the one of the key features which education at Skoltech tries to provide. This film is a good example that this feature is really important for accomplishment of success in your work. Some talks in “Beyond discipline” can inspire you to go out of your area of knowledge and try to do something new, something interdisciplinary.

“I hope that in future we could collaborate more with any scientific filmmakers, because it is a good type of projects related with building a relationship between science and art. I am sure that Skoltech students can be interested in such interaction as well as different artists, filmmakers and other specialists. And Skoltech could become a perfect platform for any interdisciplinary projects where science, art and other field can work together”.

Contact information:
Skoltech Communications
+7 (495) 280 14 81

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