The ability to detect and rapidly respond to changes in the environment is evolutionarily conserved across the animal kingdom. Yet, the neural computation underlying novelty detection have not been precisely defined or quantified. Drs. Wu (Georgetown University), Ding (University of Florida) and Chou (University of California, Los Angeles) will test the hypothesis that dynamics in neuronal activity at the tissue level play a two-step role in novelty-detection. First, a constant or repetitive stimulus establishes a spatiotemporal pattern of neuronal activity that stores an expectation of regularity within the system. Second, stimuli that violate the expected regularity are registered as changes in the patterns of neuronal activity, triggering a response. The research team will use voltage-sensitive dye imaging, optogenetics, high-density EEG, and fMRI, to measure brain activity maps resulting from a common stimulus sequence. The expected neuronal activity and the novelty response to changing the stimulus will be measured in turtles, mice, and humans. The investigators will then quantify these activity maps using mathematical/statistical analysis and develop physically-motivated theoretical models.
This project is expected to provide the initial identification of shared computational principles as well as species- and system-specific implementation of such mechanisms. Results from this research may shed light on a wider range of cognitive functions that rely on novelty detection and novelty-controlled neuromodulation, including attention, learning and memory, and decision-making. Given the importance of such cognitive functions, the proposed research may potentially have long-term, broad societal impact. For example, the opportunity to relate novelty detection capacity of college students to their classroom performance may lead to the development of novelty-stimuli based tools for more effective classroom education. Moreover, the comparative investigation of different species may provide insight into the evolution of learning capacity.