Non-curated distributed databases for experimental data and models in neuroscience

Network. 2002 Aug;13(3):415-28.


Neuroscience is generating vast amounts of highly diverse data which is of potential interest to researchers beyond the laboratories in which it is collected. In particular, quantitative neuroanatomical data is relevant to a wide variety of areas, including studies of development, aging, pathology and in biophysically oriented computational modelling. Moreover, the relatively discrete and well-defined nature of the data make it an ideal application for developing systems designed to facilitate data archiving, sharing and reuse. At present, the only widely used forms of dissemination are figures and tables in published papers which suffer from inaccessibility and the loss of machine readability. They may also present only an averaged or otherwise selected subset of the available data. Numerous database projects are in progress to address these shortcomings. They employ a variety of architectures and philosophies, each with its own merits and disadvantages. One axis on which they may be distinguished is the degree of top-down control, or curation, involved in data entry. Here we consider one extreme of this scale in which there is no curation, minimal standardization and a wide degree of freedom in the form of records used to document data. Such a scheme has advantages in the ease of database creation and in the equitable assignment of perceived intellectual property by keeping the control of data in the hands of the experts who collected it. It does, however, require a more sophisticated infrastructure than conventional databases since the software must be capable of organizing diverse and differently documented data sets in an effective way. Several components of a software system to provide this infrastructure are now in place. Examples are presented, showing how these tools can be used to archive and publish neuronal morphology data, and how they can give an integrated view of data stored at many different sites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Databases, Factual / standards*
  • Databases, Factual / trends
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neuroanatomy / methods
  • Neurosciences / methods
  • Neurosciences / standards*
  • Neurosciences / trends