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Sensing LOOPS: Cortico-subcortical Interactions for Adaptive Sensing
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Our brain perceives the world dynamically, zooming in on relevant stimuli and fading out irrelevant ones, generating biased moment-to-moment snapshots of reality. This "adaptive sensing" of the world is at the essence of the flexibility that has allowed mammals to flourish in varying environmental conditions. Adaptive sensing depends on the interaction between incoming sensory input and the feedback that can modulate it, in other words, it depends on a processing loop. Anatomists have known of feedback projections for decades. These projections often arise in the cortex and innervate numerous subcortical nuclei at various levels of sensory processing, creating cortico-subcortical loops. And yet, we continue to view sensory processing as a feedforward transformation of information. Feedforward networks, however, fail to capture the high proficiency of mammalian brains to flexibly and adaptively interpret a complex world, according to current needs and previous experience. The core aim of this Priority Programme is to provide a deeper understanding of the functional role of cortico-subcortical loops in adaptive sensing, across modalities and in behaving animals, and to revisit the role of subcortical structures classically regarded as "relay" stations.
We invite research proposals with an emphasis on the dynamics of cortico-subcortical loops during active behaviour that address, in a single sensory modality or multiple sensory modalities, one or more of the following fundamental research areas from an experimental and/or computational perspective.
Theme A: The role of corticofugal feedback in context-dependent sensory processing.
Here, context refers to sensory (background, noise) or behavioural (task, state) conditions.
Theme B: The role of corticofugal feedback during prediction and attention. Research in
this theme will revolve around sensory inference or sensorimotor predictions, and top-down selective attention.
Theme C: The role of corticofugal feedback during learning. Research in this theme will
probe the plasticity of corticofugal and subcortical structures during learning, and study
processes related to stimulus-stimulus or stimulus-outcome associations.
Several techniques and experimental approaches will be suitable to perform research in these themes. Examples include 1) genetic tools and transgenic lines to target specific cell types and/or projections for manipulations and functional sampling of neuronal activity, 2) imaging or electrophysiological recordings that allow en masse simultaneous sampling of brain activity, and/or 3) automated quantitative characterisation of behaviour.
The following criteria are necessary for inclusion of projects in the selection process. Applying projects must:
- study or model the function of mammalian corticofugal connections with the goal of characterising the impact of such input on subcortical sensory structures,
- measure or model neuronal activity on a microcircuit level in awake mammals,
- study or model the dynamics of cortico-subcortical loops according to one or more of the three themes suggested: context-dependency, prediction and attention, learning and plasticity,
- simultaneously probe or model activity in two or more interacting cortico-subcortical structures, where at least one is a sensory structure,
- study or model circuit function through behavioural or neural activity manipulations,
- have a clear plan for sharing data, analysis software and models.
We additionally encourage applications for projects which explicitly (collaboration/tandem) or conceptually:
- foster close interaction of experimental research performed in different sensory systems within the programme,
- foster close interaction of experimental and theoretical/computational research within the programme.
Further Information: