Since Lashley’s famous “search for the engram”, neuroscientists have sought to understand the biophysical basis of memory. At the level of brain network dynamics, it is widely believed, but not proven, that the engram consists of synaptically interconnected groups of cells, as postulated by Donald Hebb. Cortical modules capable of rapidly creating “cell assemblies” are thought to be the basic building blocks of memory. Cell assemblies represent the essence of brain parallel processes, and necessitate matching parallel technologies in order to capture them.
In this project, we aim to develop methodological and conceptual foundations allowing to identify cell assemblies and equate them to memory processes. This will be done by a combination of advanced multisite, single unit neural activity monitoring, closed-loop patterned and cell specific activations, and computational techniques that would identify assembly activation in real time. We will create a technological platform for directly interacting with cell assemblies in a two-way dialogue.
More specifically, we will build an experimental platform combining cell type specific light-induced neuronal activation with multisite extracellular recordings of ensemble activity. The platform will be configured as a closed-loop approach thus being capable of reading instantaneous ensemble activity, detecting “important” activity configurations, and consequently driving an array of independent optical stimulators with specific patterns.
At the same time, we will develop computational methods allowing to infer functional interactions between neurons from the recordings of the concerted activity of the neural population, in response to a given stimulation.
Understanding the role of cell assemblies in supporting memory processes will open up new horizons for brain-machine interface technologies.