New Publication – Primary tactile thalamus spiking reflects cognitive signals

Abstract: Little is known about whether information transfer at primary sensory thalamic nuclei is modified by behavioral context. Here we studied the influence of previous decisions/rewards on current choices and preceding spike responses of ventro-posterior medial thalamus (VPm, the primary sensory thalamus in the rat whisker-related tactile system). We trained head-fixed rats to detect a ramp-like deflection of one whisker interspersed within ongoing white noise stimulation. Using generative modeling of behavior, we identify two task-related variables that are predictive of actual decisions. The first reflects task engagement on a local scale (‘trial history’- defined as the decisions and outcomes of a small number of past trials), while the other captures behavioral dynamics on a global scale (‘satiation’- slow dynamics of the response pattern along an entire session). While satiation brought about a slow drift from Go to NoGo decisions during the session, trial history was related to local (trial-by-trial) patterning of Go and NoGo decisions. A second model that related the same predictors first to VPm spike responses, and from there to decisions, indicated that spiking, in contrast to behavior, is sensitive to trial history but relatively insensitive to satiation. Trial history influences VPM spike rates and regularity such that a history of Go decisions would predict fewer noise-driven spikes (but more regular ones), and more ramp-driven spikes. Neuronal activity in VPm, thus, is sensitive to local behavioral history, and may play an important role in higher order cognitive signaling.

Significance statement: It is an important question for perceptual and brain functions to find out whether cognitive signals modulate the sensory signal stream and if so, where in the brain this happens. This study provides evidence that decision and reward history can already be reflected in the ascending sensory pathway, on the level of first order sensory thalamus. Cognitive signals are relayed very selectively such that only local trial history (spanning a few trials) but not global history (spanning an entire session) are reflected.

C. WaiblingerC.J. WhitmireA. SederbergG.B. StanleyC. Schwarz

Megan McDonnell wins President’s Undergraduate Research Award (PURA)

Megan McDonnell, a BME freshman conducting research in the Stanley Lab since January 2018 was awarded a PURA Salary Award, which will allow her to continue her work on the anatomical and functional correlates of the sense of touch during the summer.

Find out more about the PURA here

Stanley Lab participates in Science.Art.Wonder

Olivia Cox presents her two paintings “Tickle” and “Optogenetics”

Olivia Cox, a Georgia Tech freshman paired with Aurélie Pala, a postdoc in the Stanley Lab, to create two paintings, entitled “Tickle” and “Optogenetics” illustrating her current research. The project started in the fall of 2017 as part of the Science.Art.Wonder intiative and culminated in a showcase at the Atlanta Science Festival in March 2018.

Read more about Science.Art.Wonder here. See more art from the event here.





The painting, Tickle, shows two different paths the electrical activity takes to travel from one side of the brain to the other. The background shows the electrical activity measured at different locations within the outermost part of the brain. The foreground is a representation of a section through the brain, with two populations of brain cells involved in the transfer of electrical activity identified through their labeling with fluorescent molecules
“Optogenetics” by Olivia Cox

Poster & Workshop at COSYNE 2018

Friday March 2nd 2018

Adam Willats will present his work on state-aware control at
Poster II-38 State-aware control of neural activity: design & analysis. Adam Willats, Michael Bolus, Clarissa Whitmire, Garrett Stanley, Christopher Rozell

Tuesday March 6th 2018

Garrett Stanley and Christopher Rozell will host a workshop on closed-loop control of neural systems and circuits for scientific discovery. Student travel grants available thanks to IEEE Brain.

Stanley Laboratory Awarded New $1.9M NIH-NINDS BRAIN Initiative Award!

The laboratory of Prof. Garrett Stanley in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University was awarded a 5 year, $1.9M grant through the “BRAIN Initiative: Targeted BRAIN Circuits Projects – TargetedBCP” program. The title of the project is “Thalamocortical state control of tactile sensing: Mechanisms, Models, and Behavior”.  The team proposes to utilize an array of electrophysiological tools to measure and manipulate the circuits on fast time scales, to determine the role the thalamus has in dynamically gating information flow to the rest of the brain during changes in states of arousal.

More details can be found here