Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Train your brain!

Neuroimaging research has greatly advanced our insights on how the brain is organized. Now is the time for the next step: Imagine what would be possible when we cannot only map brain-functioning, but use neuroimaging to voluntarily regulate brain-activity!

2022 - 2027
Janna Marie Bas-Hoogendam
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Neurolab Neurolab

A novel technology, 'realtime functional (f)MRI-based neurofeedback (rtfMRI-NF)', holds promise to do this, as it enables individuals to modulate their own brain-activity based on visual feedback. rtfMRI-NF is an innovative neuroscientific method that provides people with feedback about their brain functioning in a particular brain region, related to specific behavior. Using this feedback, individuals can regulate their own neural activity while lying in the MRI scanner. Thereby, this technique holds promise for applications in health and disease.

Research aim

In this 'Train your brain' project, dr. Janna Marie Bas-Hoogendam will create this complex laboratory setting with advanced software in Leiden at the research scanner of the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC). After an extensive pilot in healthy participants, she will explore the clinical potential of rtfMRI-NF to change brain-activity in the emotion-regulation network, for example in socially-anxious youth.


Together with a multidisciplinary team of MRI physicists, neuroimaging experts, and clinicians, dr. Bas-Hoogendam proposes to use rtfMRI-NF  as a tool to boost emotion regulation skills.  
First, dr. Bas-Hoogendam will set-up the rtfMRI-NF laboratory at the 3-T Philips MRI research scanner in the LUMC, supported by:

- experts from the LIBC:

  • prof. van Osch (MR physicist)
  • prof. van der Wee (psychiatrist))

- and international consultants with ample expertise with respect to neuroimaging and neurofeedback:

  • dr. White, National Institute of Mental Health, USA
  • dr. Cohen Kadosh, Surrey University, UK

They will explore suitable scanner acquisition parameters and install the 'Turbo Brain Voyager Software package' in collaboration with the developers of this package (prof. Goebel and his team, Maastricht University). The set up will be tested in a pilot with healthy students, resulting in a rtfMRI-NF set-up which could be easily used by other researchers as well (milestone 1).

Second, dr. Bas-Hoogendam will perform a pilot study in which she will explore the potential of rtfMRI-NF to boost emotion regulation skills, for example in socially-anxious youth. This focus is in line with her previous work on social anxiety disorder (SAD), an incapacitating psychiatric condition with a life-time prevalence of 5-9%, a typical onset during early adolescence and a chronic course. Here, dr. Bas-Hoogendam builds on the results of her PhD thesis 'Extremely Shy & Genetically Close' (cum laude, 2020), in which she investigated brain characteristics related to the genetic risk to develop SAD. In that study, she used MRI in a unique sample of families genetically enriched for SAD and established 'endophenotypes' of SAD: heritable alterations in brain structure and function, for example in regions involved in emotion regulation like the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. These endophenotypes offer new insights in the vulnerability to SAD.
Furthermore, dr. Bas-Hoogendam worked on the project 'Born to be shy?' in collaboration with prof. Daniel Pine (National Institute of Mental Health, USA), supported by a Rubicon-grant from NWO. During that project she investigated the innate risk for SAD in an international mega-analysis within the ENIGMA-Anxiety working group.

Building on these studies, dr. Bas-Hoogendam is strongly motivated to go beyond mapping the vulnerability to SAD. It's her ambition to use neuroimaging techniques to alter this susceptibility, in order to alleviate suffering and change long-term outcome in socially-anxious youth. This is crucial because existing treatments and preventative interventions for SAD are often inadequate, leading to serious disabling effects of SAD on the lives of young people, and high costs for society.

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