Brief Introduction to the German Node
within the International Neuroinformatics Coordination Facility
Despite the great success of neuroscience over the last decades, there is no doubt that we are far from understanding the human brain. This concerns all levels of neural processes – from the regulation of molecular pathways, the dynamics of single synapses, and the information processing of small neural networks to the orchestrated function of the entire brain. As new studies are initiated on the basis of current interpretations of available data, long-term progress in the neurosciences will crucially depend on the broad availability of high-quality data (including pre-processed data as well as the underlying raw data) and high-quality data-analysis tools. However, many of today's commercial recording tools are based on highly individual and proprietary data formats and come only with limited and typically closed-source software tools for data mining and analysis. This shortcoming severely complicates the access, storage, analysis and sharing of neuroscientific data and thus slows down the future development of brain research.
As a central element of the German Neuroinformatics Node (G-Node) within INCF a novel software and hardware infrastructure will therefore be developed that eases the acquisition, storage and analysis of experimental data. We will focus on cellular and systems neurophysiology
for a number of reasons. First, the lack of common data standards is
rather severe in this field; as a consequence, successful
standardizations could have an enormous impact. Second, the complexity
of these tasks goes beyond the capability of a single lab – one of the
reasons for the slow progress seen so far – but can be tackled through
a concerted effort. Third, without a thorough quantitative
understanding of cellular and systems neurophysiology, there is no
solid foundation for computational neuroscience and brain theory. In
addition, the methodology and tools developed within the project could
later also be used in other neuroscience areas. Especially early in the
project, however, it will be helpful to focus on a well-defined task
and research community to quickly reach critical mass.
By directly addressing a key problem faced by a specific group of experimental and theoretical neuroscientists, the G-Node will support ongoing and future experiments in cellular and systems neurophysiology, encourage the standardization of data formats as well as analysis tools and thus directly facilitate the cooperation within and between different labs. We do expect that the G-Node, including its services as general neuroscience community site and its data archive functionality, will also attract a large group of neuroscientists that do not yet have close links to computational approaches or neuroinformatics. To foster international cooperation, the project will be carried out in close cooperation with the INCF secretariat and interested INCF nodes. Following the open-source concept of the forerunner Neuroinformatics Portal all tools developed within the G-Node will be made freely available to the national and international community. Together, these measures will incorporate the technological opportunities of global neuroinformatics into everyday neurophysiological routine and thus help establish a new scientific culture.