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The NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series - Seven Years and One-Hundred MRI-Dogs

Awake Unrestrained fMRI in Dogs Reveals Common Neurobiology and Implications for Human Health and Disease

Date and Time

May 2, 2019

Sponsor(s): NIMH Division of Extramural Activities

Location: Neuroscience Center
Conference Room C
6001 Executive Boulevard
Bethesda, MD

On May 2, 2019, Dr. Gregory Berns will present “Seven Years and One-Hundred MRI-Dogs: Awake Unrestrained fMRI in Dogs Reveals Common Neurobiology and Implications for Human Health and Disease” as part of the NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series.

In his lecture, Dr. Berns will discuss how the domestic dog’s accessibility, social intelligence, and co-evolutionary history with humans provides a unique opportunity to study homologous brain function in a naturalistic way that cannot be done with any other species. Dr. Berns will show how dogs can be trained to participate cooperatively in fMRI studies – without restraint or anesthesia– and how this has opened a wealth of new data about canine brain function.

Because of the close relationships that dogs have with humans, there is a unique opportunity to study the neurobiology of inter-species social cognition. Dogs also suffer from emotional and cognitive disorders that appear similar to those in humans, notably anxiety and cognitive decline, raising the possibility of studying common neurobiology for such disorders (whether evolved or acquired from a shared environment). Finally, because the dogs participate in repeated scan sessions over their lifetimes, the project has created a unique longitudinal cohort, which, in some cases has allowed the detection of central nervous system tumors before symptoms appear, and the monitoring of tumor regression following radiation treatment.

Dr. Gregory Berns is the Distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics and the Director of the Center for Neuropolicy and the Facility for Education and Research in Neuroscience at Emory University. Dr. Berns is one of the founding members of the field of neuroeconomics, which uses fMRI to measure activity in key parts of the brain involved in decision making. In 2011, Dr. Berns launched an effort to train dogs to participate cooperatively in fMRI studies. Since then, he has trained and scanned 100 dogs on a wide variety of cognitive paradigms. Dr. Berns’ current research uses fMRI to study canine cognitive function in awake, unrestrained dogs. The goals of these projects are to non-invasively map the perceptual and decision systems of the dog's brain and to predict the likelihood of success in service dogs.

Registration and Parking

This event is open without prior registration to all NIH staff and the public. Parking is available at a nominal fee. A government-issued photo identification card (such as an NIH ID or driver's license) is required to enter the building. The audio of this event will be available over WebEx.


The NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series was started to encourage broad, interdisciplinary thinking in the development of scientific initiatives and programs, and to press for theoretical leaps in science over the continuation of incremental thinking. Innovation speakers are encouraged to describe their work from the perspective of breaking through existing boundaries and developing successful new ideas, as well as working outside their initial area of expertise in ways that have pushed their fields forward. We encourage discussions of the meaning of innovation, creativity, breakthroughs, and paradigm-shifting.

More Information:

WEB EX:   
Meeting password: INNOVBERNS
Meeting number (access code): 625 158 404

Join by phone
1-650-479-3208 Call-in toll number (US/Canada)
Access code: 625 158 404