In the light of evolution: Principles of brain organization deduced from cross-species neuroimaging

James Pang, PhD Organizer
Monash University
Melbourne, Victoria 
Alex Fornito Co Organizer
Monash University
Clayton, Victoria 
Cross-species neuroimaging is a powerful approach to elucidate the similarities and differences in brain structure and function among different mammalian species, with the primary goal of understanding our uniquely human abilities and potentially developing new therapeutic targets for diseases. Animal studies have traditionally been species-centric and limited to common models such as mice, rats, and macaques. Advances in imaging acquisition have dramatically expanded the range of species that can be imaged across different taxonomic classes, allowing for more meaningful cross-species investigations. The OHBM community has traditionally been focused on studies of the human brain exclusively, and may not be aware of the potential that translational imaging offers for developing a deeper understanding, grounded in evolutionary theory, of different neuroimaging phenotypes. This symposium provides an excellent medium for participants from diverse backgrounds to appreciate the advantages of cross-species neuroimaging research and how they can be embedded within ongoing projects. It will highlight various repositories of high-quality species imaging data, the latest developments and tools, and the advantages of performing cross-species research, thus greatly expanding the analytic repertoire of the symposium’s participants.


1. Learn about cutting-edge approaches to compare the structural and functional organization of brains across species
2. Understand core methodologies and considerations relevant to cross-species neuroimaging research
3. Understand how to access and use publicly available data and software


Target Audience

Researchers from all academic levels and background who are interested in cross-species neuroimaging and emerging approaches to study the structural and functional organization of brains across species. 


Comparative connectomics: Studying the ‘why’ of human brain wiring and its shared and unique variation in relationship to human cognitive abilities

Brains come in various shapes and sizes. Nature shows many small-brained species as well as endowed big-brained primate species like humans and chimpanzees with a proportionally large cerebral cortex. The field of 'comparative connectomics' studies commonalities in principles of neural wiring that apply across species, combined with how variations in connectivity between species may form the basis of species-specific brain function and behavior. In this talk, I will discuss both the technical challenges and opportunities of cross-species connectomics. I will start by discussing the methodology and technical details of comparing connectome maps across species. I will focus on the 'how to' and provide an overview of the challenges, technical details, and the importance of the availability of homologous brain atlases and their use in network reconstruction. In the second part, I will discuss examples of the application of these methods. I will discuss a comparison of global white matter connectivity across primate species with a 350-fold range of brain volume and the effect of allometric scaling of brains on network modularity, connectivity, and features of integration and communication. I will further link this work to the evolution of (human) cognition. For chimpanzee-human comparisons, I will discuss the notion of cognitive networks consistent across the two species, together with subtle adaptations of connectome architecture to higher-order cognitive networks (such as the default mode network) in humans, compared to a fine-tuning of the connectome network to visual and spatial working memory functions in chimpanzees. 


Martijn van den Heuvel, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, N/A 

Multimodal comparative neuroimaging for mapping brain organization across species

The complexity of the human brain has been shaped over extended temporal scales, underscoring its profound anchoring within a rich evolutionary lineage. As a result, cross-species mapping of brain organization plays a critical role in advancing translational neuroscience and clinical applications. This presentation will introduce comparative alignment models for humans, nonhuman primates (NHPs), and rodents, elucidating conserved and divergent brain regions and networks across different species. We will also highlight the utility of alignment models in facilitating cross-species comparisons across modalities. Additionally, by leveraging multiple NHP resources, we will characterize brain development in nonhuman primates, unraveling shared and unique features that contribute to human brain development and cognition. 


Ting Xu, Child Mind Institute New York, NY 
United States

Hippocampal connectivity patterns echo macroscale cortical evolution in the primate brain

While the hippocampus is key for uniquely human cognitive abilities, it is also a phylogenetically old cortex and paradoxically considered evolutionarily preserved. Here, we introduce a comparative framework to quantify the preservation and reconfiguration of hippocampal organisation in primate evolution, by analysing the hippocampus as an unfolded cortical surface that is geometrically matched across species. Our findings revealed an overall conservation of hippocampal macro- and micro-structure, showing anterior-posterior and, perpendicularly, subfield-related organisational axes in both humans and macaques. However, while functional organisation in both species also followed an anterior-posterior axis, the latter showed a marked evolutionary reconfiguration, which mirrors a rudimentary integration of the default-mode-network in non-human primates. Our findings suggest that microstructurally preserved regions like the hippocampus may still undergo functional reconfiguration in primate evolution, due to their embedding in heteromodal association networks. 


Nicole Eichert, University of Oxford Oxford, Oxfordshire 
United Kingdom

Geometric principles governing regional organization of the mammalian brain

Brain development is driven by numerous physiological processes, such as cell migration and neuronal differentiation, which ultimately shape the cellular, anatomical, and functional properties of the brain. Classically, spatial variations in these properties are delineated using discrete boundaries to subdivide anatomically and/or functionally homogeneous cortical and subcortical areas. However, there is no consensus to date as to which specific property should be prioritized in defining these regional boundaries, and the reliance on largely descriptive approaches has resulted in a plethora of different brain parcellations. In this talk, I will describe a new unified geometric-based approach that uses brain geometry to define regions in both the cortex and subcortex of human and various non-human mammalian species. I will show that the resulting geometric parcellations produce regions that are more homogeneous than most existing parcellations in terms of capturing diverse anatomical, functional, cellular, and molecular brain properties, and that the approach can easily be generalized to other mammalian species (e.g., primates, rodents, rabbits, treeshrews) for which no parcellations exist. Finally, I will show that the geometric approach underpinning this parcellation is tied to a generative reaction-diffusion mechanism that describes how the concentration of chemicals (e.g., morphogens) diffuses in space to enable the formation of patterns that shape regional organization. 


James Pang, PhD, Monash University Melbourne, Victoria