Published on December 19, 2018 | Updated on January 29, 2019

CORTEX conference by Thilo Womelsdorf

May 25th, 2016

Canonical Circuit Motifs underlying the Control of Stimulus Selection in Primate Fronto-Cingulate Cortex

Neural circuits in primate prefrontal cortex control the formation of large-scale attention networks, but how the activity of cells and circuits exerts network control is unknown. This talk outlines evidence elucidating this problem of network control at three levels. 

First, it outlines possible motifs on how activity of single neurons is coordinated within large-scale attention networks. One prominent example motif will be the cell-specific firing of bursts to synchronize distant brain circuits at the very moment when attention shifts to new objects in our environment. 

The second part describes how neurochemical mechanisms may underlie the efficient coordination of neural activity in large-scale networks. One emerging example is the role of noradrenergic activation for gating neural interactions to enable efficient attentional focusing and filtering of distractions. 

The third part describes how a formal theoretical framework of attention is needed to constrain the interpretation of neural data and to enable truly translational research that bridges human and animal studies. It will be argued that a formal reinforcement learning framework that is based on evolutionary plausible principles of learning and behavior will be critical for advancing our understanding of attentional control networks.

In summary, the talk pinpoints canonical signatures and neurochemical mechanisms of how cells and circuits coordinate when brain circuits control attention in primate brains.