Behaviour and decision making

Representations

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How does the brain generate and update representations of the world?

Our ability to perceive and respond to our environment requires the brain to build representations of the outside world. How does the brain do this?

A key function of the brain is to extract features of the sensory environment (e.g., through vision, audition, olfaction) and use them to build more complex abstract representations (e.g., a sense of space). Research groups at the SWC focus on understanding the computations that give rise to these representations and how these computations map onto the underlying neural circuits.

In many instances, sensory and abstract representations of the outside world are used to inform motor actions. SWC studies how neocortex, basal ganglia, midbrain, cerebellum, brainstem and spinal circuits coordinate sensory-motor computations to obtain general insights into how sensory information is transformed into meaningful actions.

For this purpose, SWC researchers record from hundreds of neurons using multi-channel electrodes (e.g. Neuropixels probes) or two-photon microscopy to reveal the computations contributing to sensory representations and sensorimotor transformations. To investigate the underlying circuitry, we make use of whole-cell recordings, anatomical tracing based on in-house viral tools and advanced microscopy platforms which enable us to dissect the circuits at the level of cell types, projection pathways and synapses. This effort requires dedicated teams of experimentalists, engineers, and theorists, to tackle the wider problem of how the brain generates representations and executes actions relating to the outside world.