BALSA (Brain Analysis Library of Spatial maps and Atlases) is a database dedicated to hosting extensively analyzed neuroimaging and neuroanatomical datasets (Van Essen et al., 2016) for human and primate species.

BALSA Reference is a curated repository of multimodal reference data accurately mapped to brain atlas surfaces and volumes, available in well-defined spatial coordinate systems for each species.

It will include anatomically and functionally derived spatial maps and dynamically-accessible connectivity data, such as:

BALSA Studies enables users to share extensively analyzed neuroimaging and neuroanatomical datasets associated with published studies, as voluntarily submitted by authors. It is particularly well suited for sharing of neuroimaging data as displayed in published figures (through the use of “scenes”), such as those in a recent human cortical parcellation study (Glasser et al., 2016).

“Scene files” for data upload, preview, download, and visualization

BALSA stores datasets organized as “scene files”, created in the Connectome Workbench software platform, which facilitate efficient data upload, previewing, download, and internal data management.

A scene file contains one or more individual Workbench “scenes”. Each scene enables exact replication of the spatial configuration and data overlays used in a given data display (e.g., zooming, labeling, thresholding, color palettes, etc.), whether it is simple or highly complex. Scene files downloaded from BALSA can be viewed in Connectome Workbench v1.2.

Standard and nonstandard neuroimaging data formats

BALSA can house a variety of standard neuroimaging data formats, including NIFTI volume data, GIFTI surface data, and CIFTI ‘grayordinate’ data (surface vertices plus volume voxels, Glasser et al., 2013). In addition to scene files, BALSA also supports other Workbench file formats such as ‘border’ files, ‘foci’ files, and several tractography-related files that are not currently standardized across neuroimaging platforms.

Citable URLs

Each scene file is assigned a unique URL in BALSA, allowing it to be accessed directly (e.g., by listing the URL in a publication).

Also, each scene in a scene file, and its corresponding webpage in BALSA, can include a PMID and/or doi that links it directly to a relevant publication.

Submitting a dataset to BALSA (not yet active)

To upload a Study to BALSA Studies, each data submitter must set up an account and provide contact information as well as essential information about the uploaded dataset. This includes specifying any constraints on data sharing (e.g., HCP Open or Restricted Access Data Use Terms) and also providing an assurance that any protected health information (PHI) has been redacted from any human data. BALSA curators are available to help with the process.

Data Curation

Once an archive is uploaded and processed in BALSA, an automatic notification will be sent to the BALSA curation team in the Van Essen lab. Curation of submitted archives will include technical checks to ensure that uploaded files are in the accepted formats, scenes can be properly displayed, are associated with studies that the submitter reports to be under review or published, and are compatible with the stipulated data sharing constraints. BALSA curators will contact the submitter and resolve issues as needed to address issues or concerns. Uploaded archives will be kept private pending curation, publication of the associated manuscript, and author permission.

Long-term plans

BALSA is in active development by the Van Essen lab (John Smith is the lead database developer). Many additional features for search and download capabilities will be implemented in the coming years, and we hope that the amount of data made available via BALSA will also grow rapidly.

Questions and comments?

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions about BALSA, please use the HCP Listserv (HCP-Users@humanconnectome.org; to subscribe, click here), as your inputs may be of interest to other BALSA users and HCP users more broadly.