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Project title: Understanding the effects of brain disease on what functional brain imaging signals are telling us about neuronal activity

Primary supervisor: Dr Chris Martin

Project description: Functional brain imaging methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have already revolutionized how we can study the processes and functioning of the healthy human brain and are making an increasing impact on our understanding on what goes wrong in disease of the brain. However, it is important to remember that the signals measured in techniques such as fMRI are not actually telling us about the activity of neurons, but are instead reflecting changes in brain blood flow. It is critical therefore that we understand in detail how the activity of neurons is related to these blood flow changes and our laboratory has played an important role in international research efforts in this area. An increasingly important issue to address now however is how do we interpret brain imaging signals in the context of brain disease? It turns out that many of the biological mechanisms that are responsible for the coupling of neuronal activity to blood flow and therefore brain imaging signals may also be altered by common diseases of the brain such as depression, Alzheimers disease and stroke to name but a few. In this situation it becomes difficult to interpret brain imaging signals in people with brain diseases as they might EITHER be telling us about the neuronal activity OR they might be telling us about the actions of the diseases on these coupling processes. Without more research on this topic, it is difficult to distinguish between these two possibilities and this will substantially impair our future ability to apply functional brain imaging to investigate human brain disease and dysfunction and develop new treatments. This PhD project will involve using a range of in vivo techniques including electrophysiology, optical imaging and fMRI (full training given) to investigate the effect of specific disease processes (including neuronal inflammation and neurovascular coupling breakdown) of how brain imaging signals relate to the activity of neurons.


Formal enquiries should be addressed to: Dr Chris Martin (c.martin@sheffield.ac.uk)

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