Principal Investigators:

Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg , University of Oxford

Professor Yaniv Assaf,  Tel Aviv University


In response to an increase in worldwide rates of cognitive decline, there has been a shift in neurosciences to focus on memory-related deterioration within the brain. Most research efforts to date have been aimed at exploring neurodegenerative processes in age related disease such as dementia, without understanding the processes behind “healthy” brain ageing. In recent years great efforts were made to create brain banks that try to link quantitative information on brain physiology in ageing with other non-imaging personal information. Thus far, such databases have included conventional types of brain imaging. However, recently there have been dramatic developments in brain imaging methods for providing quantitative measures of brain microstructure. In particular, Professor Assaf’s lab in Tel Aviv have developed novel methods for measuring the brain connectome (wiring diagram) and structure of cortical layers. Heidi Johansen-Berg Yaniv Assaf These methods could be particularly powerful in detecting subtle changes in brain structure that occur in ageing, providing early indicators of age-related neurodegeneration. No database of microstructural imaging yet exists.

In this project, Professor Johansen-Berg and Professor Assaf aim to create the first database of microstructural imaging, which will explore the brain’s connectome and cortical layers, both of which have not yet been explored in living humans. In addition, they will initiate a local brain database in Israel, that will allow to explore specific populations’ brain physiology in correlation with local lifestyle factors. Currently Israel falls far behind the advances made in the UK and other OECD countries. 


The microstructural MRI protocols are unique to the groups involved in this application. As this database will be shared publicly after the project, its benefits could impact not only the neuroimaging community but also other investigators with a focus on ageing. The project’s ultimate goal is to make brain scans interpretable in a simple manner to the general population. Although this goal is beyond the scope and timeframe of this proposal, the database created here will pave the way for achieving this.

The Partnership

The groups will work together to combine our methods and expertise: while the group in Tel Aviv has developed the micro-structural imaging protocols and will provide methods to analyse the data, the Oxford group is experienced in connectome analysis of large databases. Both groups will simultaneously perform part of the data acquisition, on the same type of MRI scanner.