Global virtual lab launched to find out how brain makes choices

Updated 2017-09-20 10:00:54 Xinhua

Some 21 leading labs around the world have recently joined forces to find out how the brain makes choices, by studying the activity and interactions between individual neurons across different areas, according to local Swiss media on Tuesday.

The new brain project, the International Brain Laboratory (IBL), will engage researchers from 21 neuroscience labs across several countries, including the U.S., the UK, Portugal, France and Switzerland, in a global virtual laboratory to measure neuronal activity in mice faced with a very simple decision-making task. The aim is to determine how the brain functions when it makes a choice, reported Swissinfo.

Researchers will use a visual stimulus, such as a black stripe on a white background, that appears on a screen to the left or right of the mouse. The animal then has to use its paws to turn a small steering wheel, made of Lego, to align the black stripe back to the center of the screen. The mouse will have to decide whether the stimulus is on the right or the left, and will convey its decision by operating the wheel.

The experiment will be conducted under the same conditions in each of the IBL labs, which will then be able to measure the activity in different regions of the brain simultaneously.

The IBL team will record the activity of several hundred neurons simultaneously, undertaking measurements in all areas of the brain at the cellular level. Overall, the researchers will record activity from 5,000 to 10,000 neurons in animals performing exactly the same task, it reported.

This comprehensive and entirely unprecedented map of neuronal activity will be made possible, thanks to the precise coordination between different laboratories, none of which alone would have sufficient resources and know-how. The virtual lab will then use this unprecedented dataset to develop large-scale models of the decision-making process.

For the initial four years, the Simons Foundation in the U.S. and Britain's Wellcome Trust will commit a total of 14 million Swiss francs (14.6 million U.S. dollars) to the project, which could be the ultimate quest to understand the brain, according to the research team.

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