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IDAC research aims to clarify brain processes across ages

Best Practice

Prof. Ryuta Kawashima, MD, PhD, is Director of the Smart Ageing International Research Center at the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer (IDAC) of Tohoku University, Japan. He uses functional brain imaging in his research on improving the cognitive function in people of all ages. He worked with a leading game manufacturer to create the game “Brain training – How old is your brain?” based on his studies on brain training with reading, writing and arithmetic tasks. The royalties helped Prof. Kawashima to buy a Philips Achieva 3.0T MR scanner to perform functional brain research at IDAC.

 Ryuta Kawashima,  MD, PhD Yasuyuki Taki, MD,PhD Motoaki Sugiura, MD,PhD
Ryuta Kawashima, MD, PhD
Yasuyuki Taki, MD,PhD
Motoaki Sugiura, MD,PhD

Brain development in healthy children and cognitive intervention in healthy adults are studied using fMRI, DTI, ASL on Achieva 3.0T

“We combine research in brain function imaging, cognitive science, and psychology with the ultimate aim of contributing to a healthy aging society,” says Prof. Kawashima. “We have developed various stimuli and activities to maintain and improve cognitive functions. We study the effect of various entertainment forms involving cognitive stimuli on the health of mind and body. We believe this research will help us to identify intellectual activities to promote cognitive development in infants. Our research on smart aging also aims to ensure a healthier long lifespan by maintaining intellectual stimulation later in life.”

Development of cognitive function

“We are performing an extensive study on brain development and maturation in healthy children,” explains Yasuyuki Taki, MD, PhD, IDAC radiologist and Associate Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. “We are building a large database of brain MRI and cognitive function data at different ages for 302 healthy children. Using brain MRI, we collected anatomical images, cerebral blood flow images, and DTI / fiber tracking. As for the cognitive function, we collect WAIS/WISC III intelligence scores to get fullscale intelligence information.” 

”We are analyzing the correlation between age and brain measures determined with MRI, such as regional gray matter volume, white matter volume, regional cerebral blood flow, and fractional anisotropy. This will help to understand the mechanisms of normal brain developmen and maturation in children. Then we also analyze the correlation between full-scale IQ or the score of a subtest and several brain measures as described above. Our ultimate goal is to contribute to clarifying the correlation between brain development and cognitive development in healthy children.”

Cognitive neuroscience

“I have been using fMRI to identify the brain regions involved in face recognition, a cognitive process of interest as it is considered a hallmark of the cognitive representation of the self, which also underpins higher social ability,” says Motoaki Sugiura, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of cognitive neuroscience. “Unfamiliar faces and friend’s faces are presented in a random order. The BOLD signal responses to the different face types show which brain regions are involved in individual face recognition.”

“A similar study on differences between healthy young and older adults in brain activations during face-name associations showed a greater retrieval success activity in the hippocampus in the young subjects than in the older subjects. In addition, functional connectivity between hippocampal and ATL activations was higher for young than for older adults. These age-related differences could relate to a decline in relational memory and a poorer retrieval of peoples’ names by older adults.

“We believe our research will help to identify the type of intellectual activities that can improve the quality of life at different ages,” concludes Prof. Kawashima.

White matter structures underlying emotional intelligence

DTI was used in a study on the association between white matter (WM) integrity and emotional intelligence (EI). Fractional anisotropy (FA) of voxels was used as a measure for the WM structural integrity. A questionnaire was used to determine factors for ability to understand emotions with regards to oneself, others, and specific situations.

Intrapersonal EI factor

Positive correlation between FA and intrapersonal EI factor is overlaid on FA images of a participant. Significant positive correlation is seen in a WM region in the right anterior insula, which is one of the important nodes of the somatic marker circuitry (SMC) where emotion-based biasing is integrated in higher brain regions. Results may suggest that WM integrity here may increase the brain’s ability to integrate somatic states information, leading to higher intrapersonal EI.

Interpersonal EI factor

Positive correlation between FA and interpersonal EI factor is overlaid on FA images of a participant. Significant positive correlation is seen in a WM region extending to the inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF). The results suggest that the highly integrated ILF is playing a key role in interpersonal EI by causing an increase in brain function related to connecting visual information with facial, emotional, and paralinguistic information.

See also Takeuchi et al., Human Brain Mapping, 2011; Article first published online

Is my face attractive?

Self-face evaluation is relative to the attractiveness of others. The subject’s task was to evaluate faces of oneself (S), a close friend (F) and another (O) while these were inserted in a series of attractive and unattractive faces shown to the subject. Positive or negative evaluations were evoked by placement in the sequence of unattractive and attractive portraits.

The posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) show more activation from the positive modulation for S than for O. These results suggest that the PCC and the VTA are the neural correlates of positive self-face evaluation.

This map shows positive correlation between estimated cortical activation in PCC for positive self-face evaluation and self-esteem of participants. Similar results are found in VTA and between S and F. The results suggest a neural relationship between self-face evaluation and self-esteem.

See also Oikawa et al., Neuroimage, 2012; 59: 3668-76.


Achieva 3.0T comes through earthquake with little damage

On March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 struck Tohoku area, the most disastrous earthquake ever experienced. The IDAC MRI facility was almost intact after the earthquake, with only small cracks on the wall of building and floor of the MRI room. However, after power restoration, there were problems found in the magnet control unit, and helium levels were

decreasing day by day. Finally, it was established that there was no severe damage to the magnet, and in about a month the MRI facility was in working order again.


Y Taki, H Hashizume, Y Sassa, H Takeuchi, K Wu, M Asano, K Asano, H Fukuda, R Kawashima

Correlation between Gray Matter Density-Adjusted Brain Perfusion and Age Using Brain MR Images of 202 Healthy Children Hum Brain Mapp (2011) 32:1973-85

Hum Brain Mapp (2011) 32:1973-85

T Tsukiura, Y Mano, A Sekiguchi, Y Yomogida, K Hoshi, T Kambara, H Takeuchi, M Sugiura, R Kawashima Dissociable Roles of the Anterior Temporal Regions in Successful Encoding of Memory for Person Identity Information J Cogn Neurosci (2009) 22: 2226–2237

H Takeuchi, A Sekiguchi, Y Taki, S Yokoyama, Y Yomogida, N Komuro, T Yamanouchi, S Suzuki, R Kawashima Training of Working Memory Impacts Structural Connectivity J Neurosci (2010) 30:3297–3303

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Oct 16, 2012

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