The Domenici Research Center for
Mental Illness is a neuroscience research facility within the Brain
Sciences Center, located at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis.
Founded in 2001, the Domenici Research Center was made possible
through the support of The MIND Institute, the U.S. Department
of Energy and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
At the heart of the Domenici Research Center is a rare, state-of-the-art magnetoencephalography (MEG) neuroimaging instrument. The Center is dedicated to using a combination of non-invasive imaging technologies, such as its MEG system, along with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to advance the understanding of the brain in both health and disease.
The Brain Sciences Center's Single Unit Laboratory houses state-of-the-art hardware and software used in studies of electrical activity of the brain and basic research on cognitive function.
Bak™ Time and Amplitude Neural Discrimantors look at the analog signal and can produce different outputs for individual cells that are based on pre-set time/amplitude thresholds.
Alpha-Omega™ Discriminators display the outputs from seven different channels. Each channel can perform 'template matching' for each of three different cells. A template consists of six timepoints with adjustable 'time windows' that enable the researcher to establish the criteria for the identification of signal emanating from individual neurons.
A Thomas Recording Eckhorn™ Microelectrode manipulator can operate 32 electrodes at once. The Eckhorn has pre-amps which send the signals from the electrodes to discriminating amps. The 32 'stepper' motors in the Eckhorn are used to individually manipulate the electrodes, which we can manufacture in our lab.
Plexon™ software (familiarly known as the 'Harvey Box') is similar to the Alpha-Omega in that it amplifies and discriminates, with the added capability of working with recorded signals 'offline'.
Since 2001 researchers at the BSC have engaged in large-scale scientific computation using high-performance cluster computers. In 2001 the BSC installed one of the first generation of Linux cluster computers built by IBM. This computer had 64 Pentium III processors, 128GB total memory and 300GB of central disk storage. It had an estimated performance of 100 GFLOP/s. In addition to dramatically increasing the amount of data BSC researchers could store and analyze, this computer was used to simulate very large neuronal networks with up to one million neurons and one billion synaptic connections.
In 2011 a new Linux cluster, built by local computer company Nor-Tech, was installed. The new cluster has 352 cores in 88 low-power Xeon L5520 quad-core processors, over 1TB total memory and 26TB of central disk storage. This cluster has an estimated performance of 1.6 TFLOP/s while drawing power comparable to the original IBM cluster. The new cluster gives the researchers at the Brain Sciences Center the storage and computational resources to carry out advanced theoretical simulations and analyses of very large brain imaging data sets.
The Studio of the Mind is a sound production facility in the Brain Sciences Center where classic analog synthesizers meet modern digital technology. The studio is designed to be a multi-purpose facility, suitable for converting data to sound (sonification), creating audio stimuli, producing graphics, analyzing data and developing online materials.
Two Moog System 55 modular synthesizers built in 1975 help us to produce audio stimuli for use in MEG experiments. Along with our state-of-the-art digital synthesizer modules, the Moogs are computer-controlled through a musical instrument digital interface (MIDI). Digital Performer© sequencing/recording software provides a superb graphical user interface for the creation, editing and playback of multi-track digital audio and MIDI files.
The collection of data streams from fMRI, MEG, EEG, and extracellular recordings is only the first step of the experimental process engaged by neuroinvestigators at the Brain Sciences Center. The data streams themselves are very abstract, and virtually meaningless without multiple stages of comprehensive data processing. After the data streams are initially collected, the real work of Center scientists begins as they embark on months, and even years, of painstakingly-thorough analyses of these data sets.
Such analyses require sophisticated computer software packages, along with the most advanced computers available today. The majority of this work utilizes one of the six data processing workstations within the Brain Sciences Center. Each of these workstations is equipped with dual Pentium processors, dual monitors, and over 4 GB of RAM. Each workstation also includes over 150 GB of hard disk space, and DVD burners for backing-up the massive amounts of raw and fully processed brain data. Each of the six workstations is outfitted with a variety of discipline-specific software packages, such as BESA and BrainVoyager, which allows Center researchers to employ the most advanced data processing procedures currently available, as well as providing the capacity to create novel approaches to the processing and interpretation of the multi-dimensional data streams generated by instruments available in the Center.
BrainVoyager is a highly versatile software package that can be used to visualize 2D or 3D MRI/fMRI images from virtually any native format. The software features a high degree of customizability, which provides researchers the capacity to perform detailed region-of-interest analyses, as well as test many different models of the hemodynamic response function.
BESA (Brain Electric Source Analysis) is another software package used by researchers at the Center. Like BrainVoyager, BESA is highly versatile and recognizes EEG and MEG data streams from a variety of instruments (i.e., data in many different native formats).
Linking the BESA/BrainVoyager software packages also allows the results of fMRI experiments to inform those of MEG or EEG experiments (and vice-versa).