Welcome to the Laboratory of Comparative Neuropsychology

Welcome! Here are some lab happenings you might be interested in and a blog on recent papers.

OUT NOW: Chris and colleagues have chapters in these new MIT Press books.

Human language (edited by Peter Hagoort)

The Neocortex (edited by Wolf Singer and colleagues)

Catherine Perrodin & Chris Petkov have a chapter in the Oxford Handbook on Voice Perception (see here and below for a summary).

cobeha

CHECK IT OUT : Language Evolution special issue in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. Read the Editorial Overview.

31 contributions from world leading authorities and upcoming bright stars on language evolution rooted in core principles on neural systems and cognition aim to provide thought provoking perspectives and new insights on the evolution of cognition and language. Articles can be found here.

 

Leverhulme Doctoral Training at the Instutute: Fully funded 4-year PhD studentships in behaviour informatics and the multimodal study of behaviour

 

BBC Radio 3 Public Engagement Activity at Sage (2017): Hear the live BBC Radio 3 broadcast with Tom Service and hear the outcome of our music and time perception experiment: How does music warp people’s perception of time?

bbcr3-outcome2

 

Blog and highlights on Recent Publications:

  • Calmus R, Wilson B, Kikuchi Y & Petkov CI, Neural mechanisms for complex combinatorial binding: Computationally and neurobiologically informed hypotheses, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, (in press).

The cognitive mind and brain is so complex that we are lost without a model. This is part of Ryan Calmus’ PhD work to generate a computational model (VS-BIND) that is complementary to deep learning approaches. The model is computationally elegant and generates exciting predictions about how the brain creates mental structures. By mental structures I mean how the brain allows us to structure our complex sensory environment, with language (what you and I are using right now) a prime example of how the brain needs to efficiently find the symbols (words) and the relationship between them in a sentence. If this fails comprehension goes out the door and a person is locked out from communication. Our hypothesis is that this process is fundamental for cognition, is based on an ancient ancestral brain system and Ryan’s model charts a way forward with our neurobiological work, which is also likely to improve the model.

  • Petkov C & ten Cate C (in press) Structured sequence learning: Animal abilities, cognitive operations and language evolution, TopiCS in Cognitive Sciences

This is part of a special issue that I co-edited which is forthcoming, on cognition, artificial grammar learning by machines, infants and animals. Our contribution to this special issue considers the abilities of rodents, birds and primates, the cognitive operations involved and bases that may have taken form as language evolved in our human ancestors.

We hear pitch in many environmental sounds and some people have abberrant perception of sounds (tinnitus, schizophrenia). However, the neurobiological bases for pitch perception even under normal conditions remain controversial. Using two different types of sounds that are associated with pitch perception, which neurologist Tim Griffith’s lab has previously shown that human and nonhuman primates similarly perceive, this study shows that neurons and local-field potential recordings from auditory cortex appear to rely on a distributed code, which is important information given that many prior papers typically have identified a “pitch center” in the brain. This work in primates will complemented and extend a sister report in humans that has been submitted for publication, so stay tuned to this developing story to learn more about how the brain supports your ability to hear a fundamental aspect of natural sounds.

*joint senior authors, part of a Newcastle York Universities collaboration (with Yuki Kikuchi, Nick Barraclough and Quoc Vuong; plus three masters students including one from Rennes University in France contributed to this work).

There is tremendous interest in understanding how the brain automatically and largely subconsciously predicts what will happen next in the environment (called adaptation) and how conscious voluntary attention interacts with adaptation in the brain. We found that attention acts in a way that looks like a change in neural selectivity (tuning) at least at the level visible with human brain imaging using fMRI. We think this helps to resolve an ongoing controversy about how adaptation and attention interact in the brain, and is theoretically important (computational modelling and couching the results with attentional and predictive coding models together with Sukhbinder Kumar). Great national and international team effort and scientific advance in our understanding with human brain imaging.

Humans can be readily instructed to conduct complex cognitive tasks, while it takes months if not years to train animals on such tasks, and some tasks only species more closely evolutionarily related to us are capable of conducting. Performance on auditory tasks is notoriously difficult to train animals on, in part, because sounds are fleeting. Building on recent advances, we developed an Incentivized Attention Paradigm (IAP) that monkeys readily learned and was useful in directing their auditory performance within a few hundred trials. Brain imaging during task performance revealed the broad auditory cortex modulation now expected of attention effects in human neuroimaging studies. We also show that the auditory cortex effect comes about from interactions with sites along both cholinergic and dopaminergic pathways, showing how both reward and attention/arousal systems are involved in influencing auditory cortex. *Patrick Wikman was a visiting PhD student in the lab from Helsinki University, and Teemu Rinne is a longtime collaborator from Finland. They are two outstanding Finnish scientists and C. Petkov is honored to have had the opportunity to work with them.

  • Perrodin C & Petkov CI. “Voice regions, neurons and multisensory pathways in the primate brain.” In: Frueholz S & Belin P. Oxford Handbook of Voice Perception (2018) Oxford University Press

Catherine Perrodin, Chris’ first PhD student and he summarize the insights obtained from primates as a neurobiological model for voice perception. The book also highlights the importance of voice perception for our ability to communicate with each other and how voice responses in the brain are affected by disorders such as autism. Check it out!

Ethically conducted work with non-human primates remains indispensable for testing and translating neural principles from rodents to primates to humans, which time and time again has led to advances in understanding the human brain and the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of brain disorders. “We believe that in the coming period some increase in NHP studies in carefully targeted areas of neuroscience will still be needed. To ban useful primate disease models would be an extremely dangerous step to take, given the urgent need to find treatments for people suffering from these conditions.” Want to read more… Lemon (2018) Psychology Review

Many people with hearing problems have difficulties perceiving speech in noisy situations. Cochlear implants and other hearing device development has benefited humans in part because of work with nonhuman animals. However, understanding what would be equivalent to a ‘speech in noise’ situation for a nonhuman animal is far from trivial. Here Felix Schneider (a PhD student with consultant neurologist Tim Griffiths) used a novel figure from ground sound, showed that macaque monkeys perceive it as do humans (which Tim’s group separately shows is related to speech in noise perception in human participants) and show which brain areas are crucially involved in perceiving the figure from the noisy background. The results are important for understanding the neuronal mechanisms and how they might fail in hearing disorders.

This is a paper that came about after Ben Wilson was invited to present on his work at a meeting organized by Prof. Michael Arbib in San Diego, CA. Michael was intrigued by how the structured sequence learning paradigm and the comparative behavioral and neuroimaging insights in nonhuman primates and humans points to innovations for syntax. Ben and Chris consider the question based on the latest evidence from the literature including how learning the structure of our environment relates to and differs from another prominent idea on the evolution of language: the mirror neuron system, whereby neurons respond similarly to perceived and self-generated actions.

First primate MRI data sharing initiative, to complement similar data sharing initiatives on child and adult human MRI. Tremendous effort and contributions from Newcastle as well as many international sites. This effort is gaining steam following a Global Collaboration meeting at the Wellcome Trust (2019) as the primate equivalent of the highly successful Human Connectome Project. Keep a look out for updates…

Thirty one contributions from world leading authorities and upcoming bright stars on language evolution rooted in core principles on neural systems and cognition. The thought provoking perspectives provide insights on the evolution of human cognition and language. Articles can be found here.

This paper synthesizes recent scientific findings to better understand how the human language system specialized and why and how it relies on evolutionarily conserved neural systems. We observe that the neural system supporting language is integrated within an ancestral system, with both systems overlapping to some extent whenever the brain needs to establish relationships (build mental structures) between events separated in time. We do this all the time when we comprehend which words relate to which other ones in a sentence, and we also do this when we realize that certain environmental events predict what will occur in the future.

This article shows that the neuroimaging signal that is commonly used to study human brain function is related to intriguing and somewhat unexpected neural responses in the brain. This work is based on our collaboration with neursurgery groups at the University of Iowa.

This original paper shows that patients with two types of pathology affecting their language abilities are also affected in structuring their sensory world. This paper resulted form a collaboration with our neurology colleagues in Newcastle, Cambridge and Reading Universities.

 

Our Laboratory’s Scientific Mission

Our research uses advanced imaging and neurophysiological methods to study perceptual awareness and cognition, with an emphasis on communication: auditory or multisensory, informing and responsive to work with neurosurgery and neurology patients. Research Directions

Our group is pursuing evolutionary relationships in brain function. We are guided by the notion that information on how the human brain changed during its evolutionary history will be indispensable for advancing treatments for cognitive and communication disorders. This includes addressing forms of aphasia, amnesia, agnosia and language disorders.

Human and Animal Research, Welfare and Scientific Discovery: We work with typical individuals and patients whenever the scientific questions can be answered in humans. We also collaborate with neurosurgery groups working with patients being treated for brain disorders. Whenever necessary and the scientific questions cannot be addressed in humans alone, we also work to understand how the brain works, why neural systems falter and what we might be able to do to improve learning and brain plasticity to compensate for impairments in nonhuman animals. For instance, we conduct comparative studies to test for and establish direct relationships to the work in humans, making the animal research as relevant for human medical science as is possible. Our laboratory follows the highest ethical standards for all of our human and nonhuman animal work and all of the work is stricly regulated by local, national and international regulatory bodies. Our laboratory is firmly rooted in the principle that scientific discovery can and should co-occur with advances in welfare (human or nonhuman). To this aim we actively contribute towards advancing the 3Rs principles.

Chris was co-founder with Prof. R. Lemon of the UK Expert Group in NHP neuroscience, that provides information for funders, goverment and the public on this sensitive area of science. Chris is also on the Speaking of Research committee and writes articles on science, discovery and animal research and welfare for the public.

Newcastle is a signatory of the UK Concordat on Openness on Animal Research.  You can find Newcastle University’s statement and information on animal research here. We support advances in animal welfare and scientific discovery. All of our work is strictly regulated by the UK Home Office or the relevant human ethical regulatory bodies in the UK and US.

Current Funding

Wellcome Trust
European Research Council
National Institutes of Health (in collaboration with HBRL at University of Iowa)

Past Funders

Wellcome Trust
BBSRC
NC3Rs
Helsinki University
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Max-Planck Society
National Institutes of Health
M.I.N.D. Institute