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Dynamic sensory processsing, learning and visual cognition

Research project P5/04 (Research action P5)

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Description :

The present proposal aims at understanding the neuronal basis of visual perception, attention and memory, as well as that of calculus and the contribution of the cerebellum to sensory discrimination and learning. These questions will be addressed both at the network level, using functional imaging in human and non-human primates and at the single cell level using awake monkeys and awake or anaesthetized rodents. A major strength of the network is the availability of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in awake monkeys and one technological aim is the further development of this technique to include event-related fMRI and in vivo visualization of anatomical connections. The other hallmark is the strong behavioral control of the physiological experiments be it single-cell recording or functional imaging: the value of their results depend directly upon the control over stimulus presentation and cues and strategy used by the subjects. The network covers the research interests of the major systems neuroscience groups in Belgium and includes both seasoned teams and young teams, experiments bound to produce important results but also risky experiments and attempts to cross the edge of the present technology.

To meet these goals we will study the role of parietal cortex in decision processes using human and monkey fMRI and single-cell recording in the awake monkey. The test-bed will be simple visual discriminations. We will study the modification of object representations in infero-temporal cortex by training: improved discrimination at shorter durations. Monkey fMRI will be in assistance to find the relevant recording regions. The link between MR signals and neuronal selectivity will be investigated using repetition priming and adaptation paradigms. We will study the neural basis of automatic learning such as priming and the single exposition effect using functional imaging in humans. We will use functional imaging in humans to unravel the cortical regions involved in analysis and production of gestures and their relationship with the motion analysis and action recognition pathways. We will study the role of parietal and frontal cortex in control of spatial attention using imaging in human and non-human primates. We will map the regions involved in maintenance and executive functions of working memory and study the interaction between tasks and material. We will chart symbolic and non-symbolic representations in calculus using human and monkey (only non-symbolic) fMRI and compare this to pre-calculus abilities and visuo-spatial processing. We will test and improve contrast agents for activation and connection tracing in vivo with fMRI, develop the scanning and analysis techniques. We will clarify the cognitive function of the human cerebellum using again simple visual discriminations as tool. We will model cerebellar function with respect to somato-sensory processing, oscillations and synaptic plasticity.

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