University of Chicago Big Ideas Generator


Big Question: Redefining sensory information in perceiving brains

University of Chicago Big Questions

Principal Investigator: Leslie Kay, Psychology

Funding Type: Seed

Focus Areas: Cognition, Information

Big Idea: Contrary to belief about sensory information, most of the sensory activity we receive from outside our brains is not an objective representation of the outside world. Brain regions that receive direct sensory input (thalamus and olfactory bulb) receive more input from higher order areas of the brain than they do from the outside stimuli. Accordingly, neurons that receive primary sensory information respond to many more things than just the sensory stimulus; they are strongly modulated by ongoing processes in the brain. In this project, we will measure contributions of these higher order processes on relay neuron responses in the olfactory bulb by selectively silencing input from individual brain areas using opotogenetics (light that activates inhibitory or excitatory events). By carefully controlling input from the cortex and hippocampus during olfactory exercises in rats, we will quantify the respective contributions of higher order areas and be able to determine whether there is an early objective component that is stable regardless of central input.  These data will enable us to think about sensory information in a new way, as a product of peripheral and central processes that can now be quantified.

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