Neuroinformatics at Newcastle covers a range of topics from electrophysiology to neuroimaging. We are among the pioneers in connectome analysis and the establishment of large-scale neuroscience data management and analysis platforms. Our strength is a close collaboration between computational, experimental, and clinical researchers. Besides academic research, we have strong ties with industry and many of us are linked to local start-up companies. We hosted the £4m EPSRC-funded CARMEN project for managing and processing electrophysiology data, the £10m EPSRC/Wellcome Trust funded CANDO project for optogenetic stimulation in epilepsy patients and postgraduate degree programmes (Master in Neuroinformatics and Wellcome Trust 4-year PhD programme in Systems Neuroscience).
Connectomics and Neuroimaging
The set of connections in neural systems, now called the connectome, has attracted recent interest. Within the neuroanatomical network (structural connectivity), the nonlinear dynamics of neurons and neuronal populations result in patterns of statistical dependencies (functional connectivity) and causal interactions (effective connectivity), define three major modalities of complex neural systems. Newcastle researchers pioneered research into brain connectivity of the macaque, the cat, and the rat (Young, Nature, 1992). We were also part of the first major review on brain connectivity (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2004) and lead the UK INCF Special Interest Group in Image-based Neuroinformatics. We are active in studying the spatial and topological features of human brain connectivity and we develop new tools to characterise the modular and hierarchical organisation of neural networks.
Recent technological advances allow us to observe neural activity at high resolutions using optical imaging (cameras) or arrays with thousands of electrodes. Storing and analysing such large data sets poses several computational challenges. We therefore develop novel algorithms and tools, including advanced network analysis, to analyse physiological data. We developed a detailed simulation of cortical tissue that can reproduce experimental recordings in mammalian tissue. Such validated models are a starting point for testing optogenetic stimulation approaches (e.g. as part of the CANDO project) and pharmacological treatments.
Simulation of neural activity and development
It is now possible to simulate the activity and development of neural circuits at high levels of biological detail. We are leading the development of simulations of human brain network development (Human Green Brain Project). By using simulations of connectome development we want to understand the underlying mechanisms that lead to normal and pathological cognitive processing in healthy subjects and patients with neurodevelopmental disorders, respectively.
Our group leads the informatics activities of the neuroinformatics area across the University.