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SFB 874

Summary First Funding Period

In vertebrates, sensory perception and its implementation for subsequent behaviour, derives from six general systems comprising the auditory, vestibular, olfactory/taste, somatosensory, nociceptive and visual systems. Many decades of research have been invested in acquiring an understanding of the molecular basis of sensation, pioneered, for example, by the clarification of the basic molecular fundamentals of sight (1960s) and somatosensation (1970s), and later of hearing (1980s) and olfaction (1990s). Thus, a fundamental concept of how sensation is enabled has been achieved, but the precise means by which perceived sensory signals are integrated and represented at the cortical level is, as yet, unclear. An understanding of how sensory information is transduced from the levels of first order cortical integration, to information that undergoes higher order processing, such that a fine-tuning of the sensory percept occurs that in turn drives behaviour and memory formation, can only be achieved by a systems approach to studying sensory processes. This has rarely been attempted. Thus, although a wealth of data is available about the individual steps of these processes, several missing links are still present in our understanding of the chain of events required to translate sensory perception and integration into higher order representation. Our goal is to implement a systems neuroscience strategy to clarify key aspects of sensory processing. Thus, to acquire a holistic understanding of how sensory signals result in complex behaviour and memory formation, we will study three exemplary sensory systems (olfaction, somatosensation and vision) in both animal models and humans, and follow the processing of these signals from the level of cortical integration through to the final acquisition of a sensation-based memory engram.

The proposed research programme therefore aims to examine the integration and representation of sensory processes at three levels:

  1. at the level of first order perception and neuronal integration
  2. at the level of second order integration and primary representation in the archicortex
  3. at the higher level of high-order representation and modification of the sensory percept in the neocortex