New research project funded at RITMO

Alejandro Blenkmann has received 12 million NOK from the Research Council of Norway to study how the brain predicts upcoming events.

Alejandro Blenkmann

This week RITMO researcher Alejandro Blenkmann got the good news that his project Neurophysiological Mechanisms of Human Auditory Predictions: From population- to single neuron recordings got funding.

The ability to predict upcoming events is a core feature of human behavior, yet the neural mechanisms supporting predictions are poorly understood. The project aims at uncovering the neurophysiological basis of auditory predictive coding in humans. This will have an enormous impact on our understanding of how the human brain predicts upcoming events, a process fundamental to normal behavior and often disturbed in neuropsychiatric conditions.

The use of groundbreaking methods is an essential part of the project. In addition to advanced mathematical models and processing techniques, and carefully designed experiments, the project will utilize intracranial EEG and single-unit recordings. Single-unit recordings on humans have not been carried out in Norway previously, and one of the project’s aims is to establish a human single-unit recordings program.

Blenkmann has his Ph.D. in Engineering from the National University of La Plata in Argentina, but has since 2015 been working as a Postdoctoral fellow and researcher at the Department of Psychology and RITMO at UiO.

The project is funded through the Researcher Project for Scientific Renewal Scheme at the Research Council of Norway. In addition to Blenkmann, the project will include one Ph.D. and one Postdoctoral fellow.

Project summary

Predictions about upcoming stimuli and events are critical for information processing, enhancing perception, motor- and cognitive control needed for fluent conversation, decision-making, and other higher-order cognitive functions. Failure to make accurate predictions is seen in multiple neurocognitive disorders, including schizophrenia, ADHD, and autism. It is currently unknown how predictions are encoded by populations of neurons in different areas in the human brain, and how these regions communicate.

Using state-of-the-art intracranial EEG and single-unit recordings in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy performing cognitive tasks, this project aims at providing new insights into the neural mechanisms that support predictions in auditory perception. These methods, which are rarely available in human neuroscience, will enable a detailed examination of the dynamic spatial (mm) and temporal (msec) interplay within local- and across distant brain regions at a level not possible with the coarser-grained resolution of noninvasive techniques.

The use of advanced data processing and modeling techniques will allow us to delineate how hierarchically organized brain areas integrate predictive information about the content of stimuli, how predictive information is encoded by oscillatory mechanisms supporting inter-area communication, the dynamical changes of predictions, the complex interaction between attention and predictions, and the functional role of single-units for predictive processes.

By this multifaceted approach, we aim to elucidate key aspects of predictions, and the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying their formation and updating, that in turn are expected to impact our understanding of aberrant cognition in neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.

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