Vlassenko/Goyal Lab


Metabolic Brain Imaging Across the Lifespan


Our lab performs multiple studies of brain metabolism across the lifespan. Using radiotracers with positron emission tomography, we aim to study how brain metabolism changes with normal aging throughout adulthood. 

This project builds upon our prior work showing that with age, brain metabolism shifts from a mixture of oxidative and non-oxidative metabolism to one dominated by oxidative metabolism alone. We now aim to determine whether preservation of non-oxidative metabolism — aerobic glycolysis — and patterns of more youthful or ‘neotenous‘ brain metabolism predicts slower brain atrophy and less cognitive decline.

This project is currently driven by two large NIH-funded studies (R01AG053503, R01AG057536) and other grants funded by the McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience, all aiming to determine how brain metabolism relates to brain development, aging and cognitive decline in:

  • Cognitively normal adults (ages 35+)
  • Individuals with preclinical (brain amyloid positive) symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease
  • Children ranging in age from 3 years to adulthood

Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain


Alzheimer’s disease is posed to become one of the largest causes of death and disability in the U.S. Our laboratory focuses on how aging processes within the human brain contribute to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Importantly, our work has found that some brains appear to be more resilient to the pathology underlying Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding what factors make the brain more or less resilient is a main focus of our laboratory.

Advancing the Imaging of Brain Metabolism


Though we currently apply some of the most advanced techniques to assess human brain metabolism in vivo, we are constantly working to improve and advance our methods.

In particular, we are investigating novel methods of analyzing brain PET imaging data, including representation of PET signals to the cortical surface using techniques developed by the Human Connectome Project, in collaboration with Beau Ances, PhD. We are also developing new methods to correct for partial volume effects such that PET data can be adequately analyzed at the voxel level.

Given that few institutions have the experience or capability to perform our multi-tracer metabolic PET imaging technique, we are also collaborating with researchers who are either developing new MRI methods to assess brain metabolism (e.g., R21EB024366) or new PET tracers to assess brain function.

Our People

The lab, led by Andrei Vlassenko, MD, PhD, and Manu Goyal, MD, is home to leading researchers in the field of human brain imaging.

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