BrainsCAN is bringing aspiring cognitive neuroscientists to Western University through the Graduate Studentship Program. By empowering doctoral and master's students, BrainsCAN hopes to transform the brain research of tomorrow.
In fall 2019, the first set of graduate students joined the program under the designation of a BrainsCAN Scholar.
Learn about the BrainsCAN Scholars and their research.
Duration and beat perception across modalitiesSupervisor(s): Dr. Jessica Grahn, Dr. Blake Butler
Every culture has rhythmic music with a beat: the periodic underlying pulse that structures our temporal perception and leads to spontaneous movement. Previous studies show that although the auditory system is predominant in perceiving the temporal sequences, this task can potentially be achieved via other modalities like vision and touch, and there exists a common neural network for beat detection in the three above mentioned modalities. However, with many investigations in timing and beat perception, the question of what helps beat perception has yet to be elucidated. We assume that there is a hierarchical structure between the three levels of timing ability including single duration, nobeat sequences, and beat-inducing sequences so that successful performance in each level provides a chance to proceed to the next step, and the same perceptual hierarchy is present across three sensory modalities of audition, vision, and touch. We will address this gap in the literature using the temporal discrimination task based on the reminder task paradigm. The outcomes will be valuable in some ways. Firstly, it will provide a means of investigating the cognitive mechanism underlying beat perception. Moreover, this study will inform how temporal processing occurs in different modalities.
Can cortical gyrification identify subgroups within schizophrenia patients with distinct cognitive and functional outcomes? A cluster analysis on longitudinal dataSupervisor(s): Dr. Lena Palaniyappen, Dr. Lyle Muller, Dr. Marieke Mur
Patients diagnosed with schizophrenia display various patterns of symptoms and researchers have been trying to find the association between these symptoms and brain structural changes. One of these brain structural features is cortical gyrification, which indexes how the outer layer of the brain is folded. Previous studies have found abnormal cortical folding in schizophrenia patients, so we wonder – can this abnormal change in the brain structure predict the outcomes of schizophrenia patients (e.g. symptoms, cognitive abilities, and social functioning)? To answer this question, we will use cluster analysis, a machine learning tool to group schizophrenia patients with similar gyrification patterns together, and then track how their symptoms and cognitive abilities change over 2 years. If we can see there are profile differences between groups, it can shed light on the association between abnormal brain folding in the early stages of schizophrenia and certain symptoms. Understanding this association can better inform clinicians during diagnosis, predictions, and treatment.
A model of stress buffering by social interaction: Role of stress alleviating circuits in the hypothalamusSupervisor(s): Dr. Wataru Inoue, Dr. Julio Martinez-Trujillo
What keeps the brain and body healthy throughout our lives? It has become increasingly clear that strong social ties are an important predictor of longevity. Conversely, loneliness is a strong risk factor for mental illness, poorer disease outcomes and mortality. Despite the importance of this topic, how social interaction improves our health is largely unknown. One theory is that social interaction reduces stress, and thereby reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Chronic exposure to cortisol is well-known to negatively affect mental and physical health. Research indicates that positive social interactions can suppress the brain’s response to stress. This project will investigate the brain mechanisms through which positive social interaction reduces activation of the stress response and the stress hormone cortisol.
Neuromodulation of cognitive physiology in awake NHPSupervisor(s): Dr. Stefan Everling, Dr. Wataru Inoue
During primate evolution, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) has undergone a great expansion and is crucial to higher-order cognitive functions. The PFC is subject to substantial neuromodulation from all major ascending modulatory systems, and disrupted neuromodulation of PFC is a feature of numerous neuropsychiatric disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The impact of neuromodulation on PFC activity has been explored through extracellular electrophysiology, using both systemic and local pharmacology. From this, much is known about spiking activity (outputs) of PFC neurons and network activity through local field potentials, but little is understood about how neuromodulation affects synaptic activity and intrinsic mechanisms, which results in the spiking output in single PFC neurons during cognitive tasks. The development of intracellular recording methodology during active behaviour has yielded rich insights into how precise computations in cortical neurons are affected in sensory systems and in spatial navigation. This project seeks to revolutionize our understanding of the functioning of PFC circuits and the neuromodulation of cognition in awake-behaving NHP by combining neuropharmacological investigations with intracellular recordings. This will provide a comprehensive understanding of what computations PFC neurons perform in cognitive tasks and how these operations are affected in disease states.