Our group seeks to understand and measure how major dementias ‘work’ as whole-brain diseases and how they produce complex symptoms.
Brain signatures of auditory information processing in neurodegenerative disease
The Brain Behaviour Group, led by Professor Jason Warren, is currently recruiting people with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia (FTD), or primary progressive aphasia (PPA) to take part in a research study that aims to understand more about how different aspects of hearing and time perception are affected in different forms of dementia. The study can be run either fully online or face-to-face at the Dementia Research Centre, according to participant preference and current Covid-19 safety guidelines. Participants will be asked to take part in a number of different activities including psychology tasks (involving memory, language and thinking), questionnaires, and newer tasks assessing hearing and time perception. They may also be invited to have a brain MRI scan at Queen Square. As an extension to the study, we may also invite participants to have a recording of their overnight sleep. To take part, participants must have:
- A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) or primary progressive aphasia (PPA)
- A partner, friend or family member who could be present during the research sessions to assist with any online technology or connection problems, and to answer some questions about the participant
- A reliable internet connection and laptop or tablet device that can be used to connect to videoconferencing technology, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams (for online testing)
- Headphones or speakers to allow them to listen to sounds (for online testing)
Anybody interested in participating will be asked to answer some initial questions to determine their eligibility, and this may be followed by a brief practice session to test the quality of videoconferencing connection with one of the study researchers. If the quality is acceptable, and the participant would still like to proceed, they will then be invited into the full study. For more information and to discuss taking part, please contact Mai-Carmen Requena-Komuro (email@example.com) and/or Jess Jiang (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Our mission
We consider ourselves ‘dementia physiologists’. Our work aims to identify and define the cognitive and physiological changes that link damaging proteins spreading through brain networks to specific symptoms experienced by people with dementia, particular the frontotemporal dementias and Alzheimer’s disease.
Our core focus is the processing of complex sounds, such as speech, voices and music: such sounds are fundamental to everyday functioning and wellbeing and make intense processing demands on the brain that sensitively expose the effects of dementia. Around this core, we pursue other, broadly interconnected themes in nonverbal and embodied cognition, cerebral plasticity, temporal processing, sleep pathophysiology, and computational modelling of proteinopathies. Our work is directly inspired by and grounded in our experience of meeting and caring for people living with dementia and their supporters, particularly via the Cognitive Disorders Clinic at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, and the national Primary Progressive Aphasia Support Group and Rare Dementia Support based at UCL.
Our vision for this work rests on three inter-related aims:
- to open up new avenues to identify which proteins are causing dementia and the functional impact of those proteins in an individual person, including ‘proximity markers’ that herald the imminent onset of dementia – currently this is difficult to reliably predict and to detect
- to guide the development and targeting of better diagnostic tools and treatments – at present we do not understand how particular pathological proteins give rise to large-scale brain changes, and only an improved physiological understanding will help us identify the dementia disease responsible earlier and more accurately and to design drug and other interventions to modify or reverse the disease process
- to assess rapidly whether treatments are working and to harness the brain’s residual capacities – we hope that new markers based on changes in brain function will reflect protein effects more directly and dynamically than is currently possible, allowing treatments to be modified before irreversible brain damage occurs and also building on the brain’s retained ‘plastic’ ability to adapt itself to damage.
In our work, we use a variety of tools in combination, because they give us complementary perspectives on how complex dementia diseases work. Examples include:
- new cognitive neuropsychological tests, and surveys about symptoms and daily life functioning for patients and caregivers
- autonomic (pupil, heart rate, skin), electromyogram (facial and other muscle) and sleep recordings
- structural MRI and diffusion tractography
- functional neuroimaging (fMRI and MEG)
- computational modelling of dementia evolution in a ‘synthetic brain’
We collaborate with a number of other research groups at UCL, nationally and internationally, to harness their perspectives and expertise and to build awareness of the importance of dementia among basic scientists. Our collaborators include:
- Prof Doris-Eva Bamiou, UCL Ear Institute
- Prof Gareth Barnes, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UCL
- Dr Marc Busche, Dementia Research Institute, UCL
- Prof Karl Friston, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UCL
- Prof Andrea Halpern, Bucknell University, USA
- Prof Betty Tijms, Amsterdam UMC, Netherlands
- Dr Adeel Razi, Monash University, Australia
- Dr Cathy Rubin, Macquarie University, Australia
- Genetic Frontotemporal Dementia Initiative (GenFI)
- Consortium of clinicians and scientists
- Prof Derk-Jan Dijk, University of Surrey
- Prof Tim Griffiths, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
- Prof Lauren Stewart, Goldsmiths, University of London
- Prof James Kilner, Clinical and Movement Neurosciences, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
- Prof Gill Livingston, Division of Psychiatry, UCL
- Dr Neil Oxtoby, Centre for Medical Image Computing, UCL
- Prof Jonathan Roiser, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL
- Prof Liz Sampson, Division of Psychiatry, UCL
- Prof Sophie Scott, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL
- Prof Rosemary Varley, Psychology and Language Sciences, UCL
Our work has been generously supported by Action on Hearing Loss, Alzheimer’s Research UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, the Guarantors of Brain, Brain Research UK, the Dunhill Medical Trust, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Brain Appeal, the NIHR UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, the Wellcome Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.
- Our research team
- Elia Benhamou, PhD student (Brain Research UK): music and predictive cognition
- Chris Hardy, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Pauline Ashley – Action on Hearing Loss Fellow): speech processing and neural plasticity
- Jess Jiang, PhD Student (National Brain Appeal): dynamic markers, sleep and neural plasticity
- Jeremy Johnson, Clinical Fellow and PhD Student (Association of British Neurologists): hearing and auditory cognition
- Mai-Carmen Requena-Komuro (Wellcome Trust): temporal perception and awareness
- Harri Sivasathiaseelan, Clinical Fellow and PhD Student (Wolfson Foundation): nonverbal vocalisations and socio-emotional cognition
- Jason Warren, Professor of Neurology and Consultant Neurologist: Principal Investigator
All of our work is clinically focused and directly informed by meeting and caring for people living with dementia. Without them, none of our research would be possible - they work with us, teach us and inspire us.