AMA @ Martinos: Anastasia Yendiki

Martinos News

The 2022 meeting of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping (OHBM), to be held June 19-22 in Glasgow, Scotland, will feature keynote lectures by no fewer than two Martinos Center researchers: Anastasia Yendiki and Jon Polimeni. In anticipation of the meeting, we approached Anastasia about putting together a straightforward overview of the work she planned to describe in her keynote. Instead, she proposed an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA), in which she would answer questions about — as the name suggests — pretty much anything.

This was an excellent idea if ever we heard one, so we opened the floor to the Martinos community, who submitted questions on a range of topics. Following are the questions we received and Anastasia’s responses.

How much can one glean from diffusion tractography about function — in other words, about its correlation with resting-state functional connectivity?

I work a lot with brains that are in their final resting state (post mortem), where functional connectivity is zero but the tracts are all there, so I’d probably give you a low-ball estimate for that correlation. But more seriously, the way to think of it is not as a correlation, but as the extent to which resting-state functional connectivity can be explained by random fluctuations in brain activity on top of the structural links provided by the tracts. For a lengthier discussion, I’ll refer you to the section on multi-modal information of this recent preprint that I was fortunate to contribute to as part of the OHBM WHATNET initiative.

Can diffusion tractography be used as a reliable tool for assessing disease progression, such as for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s?

The most reliable way to use tractography is as a tool for reconstructing anatomically defined tracts of interest. In this case, it’s not the tractography itself that plays the role of the biomarker, but one of the many microstructural measures that can be gleaned from diffusion or multi-modal MRI data and mapped as a function of position along the tracts. For which specific microstructural measure would be the best biomarker for your disease of interest, I’ll refer you to those who work in the microstructure field, namely my close collaborator and co-conspirator, Susie Huang. For recent evidence from our group that tractography can reconstruct anatomically defined tracts of interest reliably, even from limited data or in the presence of lesions, see work by Chiara Maffei with many other favorite collaborators of ours, here and here.

What is your earliest memory at the Martinos Center?

Coming with the intention to learn about fMRI, but seeing some tractography on my first day and changing my mind. I also talked about this recently as a guest of Peter Bandettini’s on the OHBM Neurosalience podcast.

What did you miss most about in-person conferences during the pandemic? What did you miss least?

Hands down what I missed the most is OHBM club night. What I missed the least is staying up all night before a presentation to finish it. This year we have to record our talks a month in advance, so problem solved…

What question do you hope you will be asked at the end of your keynote lecture?

“What would you like to drink?”

You are also an accomplished flamenco dancer. Were you able to continue dancing during the pandemic?

Yes! I’m happy to be able share this video that we made during lockdown with guitarist Anthony Tran. The description below explains the “socially distanced” concept behind the video.

This video was made during the socially distanced fall of 2020. The music and choreography were composed in isolation and shot in two separate rehearsals in different studios. Many elements of the video were born out of necessity but became essential to its look and feel: the Dance Complex in Cambridge, MA was the only space open to flamenco after the closure of other local studios; face masks were required; a snowstorm meant less natural light than what we had expected. The title of the song (“Respiro”: breath, I breathe) refers to a flamenco term for a break in a song; a function of our body that we take for granted but that was taken from so many this year; and a sense of our own resilience: as long as I breathe, I can create.