Monday, November 18, 2013
From the jungle to telemedicine: towards integration and translation in cognitive neurosciences
Ricardo Gil da Costa, SALK Institute
The understanding of the neuronal bases of behavior requires analyses across animal models and levels: from the single neuron to brain areas and neuronal networks. As such, we are witnessing ever growing efforts to "bridge" multiple fields of neuroscience. In this talk, I will present one such effort, involving various research teams and institutions across time. It includes integrative research, in which an evolutionary perspective was used to investigate the bases for conceptual representation and its link to vocal communication, followed by a translational research component where novel engineering solutions for mental health were developed. Building from previous work, we reported that species-specific vocalizations in macaques elicit differential activity in higher-order visual areas, including regions in the temporal lobe associated with object form (TE/TEO), motion (STS) and long-term memory (TE), as well as in limbic and paralimbic regions associated with the interpretation and memory encoding of affective information. This neural circuitry strongly corresponds to the network for conceptual representation in humans. In addition, such vocalizations evoke distinct patterns of brain activity in ventrolateral frontal cortex and Tpt, areas previously reported as the structural homologues of the human perisylvian language areas. To better understand the temporal dynamics of these neural networks, we recently developed a method for electroencephalographic recording (EEG) that allows for direct comparisons between humans and macaques. Our latest findings demonstrate homologies for various known event-related brain potentials (ERP), as well as a novel functional homologue of the human N400 ERP, associated with the integration of meaning and never before described in a non-human species. Altogether, this research suggests a homology of these systems in primates, and furthers direct comparisons between species, effectively bridging findings at the cellular and systems levels. Although paramount, this "bridge" by itself is not enough. There is a resonating need for translational solutions enabling both the leap from fundamental research findings into potential animal models, and the development of applications for use outside the confinement of traditional research and medical facilities. With this in mind, I will discuss how we expanded our research framework by: i) testing the use of macaques as animal models for human mental disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, aphasia, etc.) and ii) developing portable and "easy to use" brain-computer interface solutions, using a novel epidermal electronics forehead sensing technology, coupled with a "neuroscience-guided" analytical approach, to evaluate brain signals of interest in patient populations. Overarching the specific findings and methodological advances, this example of a path "from the jungle to telemedicine" will be used to illustrate the importance of multidisciplinarity for endeavors that could never be successful within a "single discipline" approach.