Prof. Amir Amedi and Dr. Ami Citri win ERC grants

ELSC congratulates Prof. Amir Amedi and Dr. Ami Citri for receiving the prestigious ERC grant!

Amir Amedi:
How experience shapes brain specializations: The main goal of my research is to understand the origins of brain specialization and its flexibility across the lifespan.  In our modern society novel sensory experiences and augmented perception technologies are increasingly part of our everyday life. How does our brain deal with processing these new experiences? How much of its functional specializations and organization principles (e.g. topography in early sensory and motor brain areas) are already predefined by evolution and are locked after critical periods early in life? Our main hypothesis is that computational tasks, cognitive goals and partially innate network connectivity patterns, rather than sensory input per se, drive the emergence of brain specializations even after the critical periods pass. We base this also on our extensive experience with teaching blind users to "see" with their ears using sensory substitution devices (SSDs) and the resulting brain specializations, including potential mechanisms.  Here, we will extend, generalize and consolidate this theory by tracking in healthy adults the development of Novel Sensory Experiences (NSEs) which humans never experienced in their lifespan or during evolution.  We suggest here a series of 5 novel topographic devices (e.g. we developed recently the IRThermoSense for perceiving thermal images without interfering with regular vision). We will also provide novel experiences to congenitally sensory deprived populations (e.g. deaf) to promote sensory restoration. In both cases, we aim to characterize the integration of new sensory information in the brain using longitudinal self and supervised learning in virtual and real world environments and cutting-edge biologically inspired computational neuroimaging tools, with special emphasis on topography (similar to how natural senses are represented e.g. body homunculus and retinotopy), task-selectivity, specializations, multisensory and sensorimotor binding, and the emergence of distal attribution
Ami Citri
The Claustrum: A Circuit Hub for Attention: In this study, I aim to unravel the activity, function and mechanism of action of the claustrum, with special emphasis on its role in exacting gain control of cortical processing, and in mediating neuromodulation of attention. I will combine complementary behavioral, electrophysiological and perturbational approaches, in the context of unique transgenic mouse models enabling selective access to the claustrum.