The ability to visualize brain activity in people using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has revolutionized cognitive and clinical neuroscience, by providing a window on brain function and dysfunction. The Henry H. “Sam” Wheeler, Jr. Brain Imaging Center (BIC) led by Professor Mark D’Esposito, is one of the most innovative and powerful imaging facilities in the world dedicated solely to basic research on human and animal brain function. The BIC houses a 4 Tesla and a 3 Tesla MRI scanner, and is built upon active collaboration between cognitive neuroscientists, physicists, chemists, and computer scientists. The BIC is associated with The Judy & John Webb Neuroimaging Computational Facility, which develops and applies new tools for analyzing brain imaging data. Our physical scientists and neuroscientists work together to enhance the temporal and spatial resolution of brain imaging technologies, to probe deeper and more precisely into the dynamic functioning of the living brain.
Advances in understanding brain function and brain disorders are often enabled by cutting-edge technology. The Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute fosters technological advances by sponsoring Technology Centers. These centers bring together physical scientists (e.g., from physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering) and neuroscientists to develop tools for neuroscience research, and apply these tools to advance our understanding of the brain.
Ongoing advances in molecular genetics and the physics of imaging enable neuroscientists to use light to both visualize the dynamic activity of individual nerve cells and proteins in the living brain, and to control neural activity as a means of probing brain function. The Molecular Imaging Center, led by Professor Ehud Isacoff, develops these optogenetic tools and provides an array of cutting-edge confocal and multiphoton microscopes for sophisticated imaging experiments. The Center is used by neuroscientists, cell biologists, and molecular biologists from 40 labs to investigate topics such as molecular biophysics of single proteins, cell biology of neural development and signaling, and properties of neural circuits. The Center provides training, systems management, and consultation on experiment design.
The recent sequencing of the entire human genome and the genomes of many model organisms (e.g., worm, fly, fish, mouse) provide a wealth of molecular information that can be used to understand the genetic basis of nervous system function, development, behavior, and disease. The Neurogenomics Center, led by Professor John Ngai, creates and exploits the most advanced gene microarray and other high-throughput genomics technologies to address neurobiological questions at the genome-wide level. The facility houses microarray and fluidics robots, microarray scanners, PCR machines for processing of DNA samples, DNA sequencers, and software for gene chip and expression profile analyses. Equipment is being continuously updated to match rapidly evolving genomics technology.
The Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary research group that develops mathematical and computational models of brain function. The past several decades have yielded a plethora of data regarding the structure and function of the brain, yet we are still lacking concrete theories for how information is processed by neurons so as to mediate basic abilities such as vision, hearing, language, memory, and motor control. Investigators at the Redwood Center, led by Professor Bruno Olshausen, are attempting to bridge this gap by bringing their expertise in computer science, physics, mathematics, and engineering to bear on modeling the complex interactions that take place in neuronal circuits, as well as developing new computational tools for analyzing the high-dimensional datasets now arising from neuroscience experiments. Developing such models and tools is essential in order to design experiments and interpret findings in terms of a theory of neural function and ultimately, intelligent behavior.
The Redwood Center originated from the Redwood Neuroscience Institute (RNI), a private research institute founded in 2002 by Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot and co-author of “On Intelligence.” RNI moved to the UC Berkeley in July 2005 as part of a gift from the Strauss-Hawkins trust, at which point it was renamed the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. In addition to possessing a 36-node computing cluster, the Center hosts the NSF-funded Datasharing Facility (crcns.org) where modelers can access data from experimental labs.