Dr. Nico Dosenbach is a pediatric neurologist and neuroscientist at Washington University, specializing in the study of brain network plasticity and cortical networks associated with cognition.

#39: Nico Dosenbach – A BOLD Challenge to Penfield’s Homunculus based on resting-state fMRI

In this engaging conversation with Dr. Nico Dosenbach, a clinician-scientist at Washington University, we dive into his personal journey from the Black Forest in Germany to his adventures in the US. Nico generously shared insights into his educational and career path, recounting his experiences studying biochemistry in New York City, making the decision to pursue an MD/PhD, and eventually specializing in pediatric neurology.

The conversation delved into his early days as a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, during the pioneering early days of resting-state fMRI.

Nico also discussed the significance of data collected as part of the Midnight Scan Club. This work collected hours worth of data from ten individuals using comparably long and repeated fMRI scans and led to most of the seminal work of the Dosenbach lab. As Nico lays out, the reason is intriguing: If one sees an unexpected finding on high quality data, one would not as easily attribute it to noise. More likely, one would follow up and try to understand the finding better – as was done in numerous of Nico’s papers.

Nico tells us how practical it is to wear a pink cast around ones dominant arm for a while – and why one would want to do such a thing as an fMRI researcher. Finally, we talk to Nico about two of his recent groundbreaking papers which were both published in Nature and how it came about that he challenged a long-standing “truth” in neuroscience: The model of the motor homunculus established by Wilder Penfield.

Taha, Alaa; Horn, Andreas (2023). #39: Nico Dosenbach – Penfield’s Homunculus Challenged Under the fMRI Microscope. figshare. Media. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.24153300.v1

References and Links:

  • Two papers dicussed during this episode:
    • Marek, S. et al. Reproducible brain-wide association studies require thousands of individuals. Nature 603, 654–660 (2022)
    • Gordon, E. M. et al. A somato-cognitive action network alternates with effector regions in motor cortex. Nature 617, 351–359 (2023)
  • Media Interviews:

The Midnight Scan Club founding members and their logo

In his famous Pink Cast Study, Nico immobilized his dominant arm by wearing a pink cast. This stemmed from a curiousity to understand the plasticity of the adult brain. In this episode, Nico shares with us momments that led to this decision and his experiences throughout this two-week long study.

Intriguingly, Nico’s PhD graduation cake already had a homunculus on it. In this photo, Nico also pointed to us Dr. Alexander Cohen, a physician-scientist and now Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School (and Andy’s colleague within the Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics).