Goal of the consortium
The goal of this project is the implementation of a systems neuroscience strategy to clarify key aspects of sensory processing. The overarching question of this project is concerned with how sensory signals generate neuronal maps, and result in complex behavior and memory formation?
Three common research questions unify the projects of the CRC:
- How does perceptual processing lead to neuronal and / or cortical plasticity?
- How does sensory integration lead to spatial and / or declarative representation?
- How does sensory learning enable the categorization of objects?
To enable cognitive representations of sensory processes, sensory information derived from our senses (e.g. audition, vestibulation, olfaction/taste, somatosensation, nociception and vision) must, following its initial perception at the level of the sensor, be integrated at the level of the cortex. The transduction of this sensory information, during first-order cortical integration, is followed by increasingly complex higher order processing, which enables the fine-tuning of the sensory percept such that behaviour and memory result.
In this collaborative research centre (Sonderforschungsbereich, SFB) we implement a systems neuroscience approach to clarify key aspects of sensory processing at the cortical level. To do this we study humans and animals, and integrate our empirical observations into computational models. We are particularly interested in understanding how sensory information processing leads to learning and memory formation, or to higher order representations such as categorisation, spatial representation, and explicit memory.
In the current funding period of the SFB we observed that directed elevations, and under certain circumstances selective suppression, of cortical excitability promote perceptual learning. At the level of categorisation, we observed that the hippocampus is likely to play a critical role in learning to implement different categorisation strategies. At the level of spatial memory processing of sensory experience, we observed that whereas the saliency and the context of the sensory modality are decisive, the modality of the sense itself is less critical when spatial sensory experience promotes neural and synaptic encoding in structures such as the hippocampus. We also acquired novel evidence of cross- and multimodal sensory information processing in the primary sensory cortices.
Based on our current findings, in the third phase of the SFB we will focus on the clarification of how different cortical and subcortical structures interact in the enablement of information integration, on how neuromodulation and excitability status can determine cortical reorganisation and plasticity resulting from sensory learning, on a scrutiny of conditions that lead to cross- and multimodal information processing, and on the mechanisms and brain structures that enable higher order representations of memory and sensory experience.
These levels are addressed by the two main research areas of the CRC, namely:
Research Area A: Neuronal processing and integration of sensory information
Research Area B: Sensory representation and memory.