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The mammalian brain can be conceptualized as a thalamocortical system, yet the thalamus is often ignored in studies of brain network organization. By combining graph analyses on thalamocortical functional connectivity, meta-analysis on task-based functional neuroimaging experiments, and studies of patients with focal thalamic lesions, We are investigating the thalamus's functional contribution to human brain's functional network organization.
The cerebral cortex is composed of several large-scale functional networks, and the interaction between these networks (inter-network connectivity) is known to fluctuate across time and modulated by cognitive demands. We investigate if and how the thalamus modulates or mediates inter-network connectivity, and how it might contribute to cognitive control.
Specific projects include: (1) Testing the possibility of inducing downstream physiological change in the thalamus through cortical TMS stimulation. (2) Examining task-related thalamocortical connectivity during effortful, cognitively demanding behavioral paradigms that are known to induce changes in global brain connectivity patterns.
Could functional connectivity be modulated by "top-down biasing signals"? In collaboration with Dr. Mac Shine at Stanford University, we are studying how cognitive control influences information exchange between task-related brain regions, and to identify brain regions interacting with dynamic functional connectivity patterns. We use TMS to causally map regions that provide "biasing signals" to enhance or inhibit functional connectivity for cognitive control.
How do brain networks flexibly process and communicate information? Possibly through oscillatory neural activities. Different brain rhythms are thought to reflect distinct biophysical and circuit-level processes, thus could be indices of distinct neurocognitive mechanisms. Very little is known about how oscillatory neural dynamics develops; We study how oscillatory neural dynamics support cognitive control in adults and during adolescent development.
Historically, cognitive control and its neurodevelopment have been studied using univariate approaches to probe relevant brain regions in isolation. However, several brain maturational processes (e.g., myelination) affect the brain as a network from childhood through adolescence. Hence, how functional brain networks are organized across development has important implication to its information processing capacity. We apply graph theoretic approaches to analyze brain network properties throughout development. Right now we are focusing the thalamocortical system; despite it critical importance, not enough is known about its developmental trajectory.