An innovative approach to brain research developed by a scientist at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston has been selected for funding by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative designed to support high-impact, medical investigations.
Valentin Dragoi, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the UT Medical School at Houston, has been awarded a four-year, $1.2 million grant through the initiative called Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration (EUREKA). The project is titled "Real-time population coding underlying behavioral decisions."
His approach to studying the brain could further the understanding of dissociative disorders that affect about one in 20 Americans.
Dragoi focuses on a region of the brain known as the cerebral cortex, which is a slender carpet of nerve cells or neurons that covers the cerebrum and plays a major role in sight, hearing and motor skills.
The brain is amazingly difficult to interpret because of the high degree of interconnectivity among brain networks, Dragoi said. For instance, sensory inputs are successfully processed by neuronal networks in different cortical areas. Each cortical area consists of multiple layers that contain characteristic patterns of connections with other cortical regions.
Whereas previous research has focused on individual neurons, Dragoi proposes to study the signals of populations of neurons in different regions of the cerebral cortex including visual cortex and high-level cortical areas. Tests will be conducted in an animal model.
"Examining how populations of neurons in multiple cortical areas interact to produce behavior may significantly increase our understanding of how neuronal networks operate in both normal and dysfunctional states," he said.
Dragoi said, "We made tremendous progress in understanding the language of individual neurons. Yet, how populations of cells communica
|Contact: Robert Cahill|
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston