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SFF-Sentre for fremragende forskn

CAC - Centre for Algorithms in the Cortex

Alternative title: Senter for hjernebarkalgoritmer

Awarded: NOK 155.0 mill.

Since the beginning of abstract thinking, humans have speculated about the origin of the mind. What makes us aware of the world and our experiences in it, and how do we use this awareness to act on the environment? Today, it is universally agreed that cognitive functions - such as sensory perception and interpretation, memory, imagery, planning, decision-making and inferential reasoning - emerge from neural activity in the brain, and in particular the cerebral cortex, which is the sheet of uniformly organised tissue that covers the cerebrum. However, how the more than a dozen billions of neurons in this sheet of the brain work together to produce cognition remains a mystery. Here we propose to take advantage of new experimental technologies for large-scale high-resolution neural-activity recording, accompanied by new tools for analysis and conceptualization of such data, to decipher the computational algorithms of the cortex. The scale of this project demands the establishment of a centre composed of complementary research groups working towards a common goal. The Centre for Algorithms in the Cortex (CAC) will consist of the 12 groups of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, each working on a different aspect of the cortex. The mission of CAC will be to exploit synergies between the groups to identify recurring algorithms of computation across diverse cortical systems. By developing methods for monitoring and perturbing activity in thousands of distributed neurons in small freely-behaving animals, as well as statistical and theoretical tools for data evaluation, and by mirroring these studies by high-resolution functional imaging in humans, we expect to be able to determine how the collective activity of neurons in the cerebral cortex gives rise to cognitive function and dysfunction, in animals and humans. Such insight will be essential for combating neurological and psychiatric disease, which commonly originates in the computations of the cerebral cortex.

Since the birth of philosophy, humans have pondered the origin of the mind, or our ability to consciously perceive and analyse past, present and future experience to interact intelligently with the world. Today, intellectual functions such as sensory perception, memory, imagery, planning and decision-making are known to reflect neural processing in the cerebral cortex, the sheet of uniformly organised tissue covering the cerebrum. Yet the neural algorithms of the cortex – its computational rulesets – have remained in the dark because information in the cortex is distributed across billions of tiny synapses that connect intermixed, widespread populations of neurons. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to overcome this elusiveness. New experimental technology and new tools for large-scale data analysis and modelling allow activity patterns – and algorithms – to be extracted at unprecedented precision from thousands of simultaneously active cortical neurons. We propose to take advantage of the emerging opportunities by bringing together 12 research groups at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in a Centre for Algorithms in the Cortex (CAC). The overarching mission of CAC is the use of new technology to identify the fundamental rulesets of higher-order neural-circuit computation in the cortex. A steppingstone will be the Nobel-awarded insights from hippocampal-entorhinal circuits obtained at CAC’s parent centres, but the CAC itself will be transformative in extracting the domain-general algorithms underlying cognitive operations. To facilitate this paradigmatic switch, we have recruited a new generation of independent investigators, who will help acquire large-scale data from diverse higher-order cortical systems, at different stages of development and across species, hand in hand with theoretical model development. By identifying neural-circuit codes in these data, the CAC shall pioneer the next decade’s deep dive into the mechanistic basis of cognition.

Funding scheme:

SFF-Sentre for fremragende forskn

Thematic Areas and Topics