The Neural Circuitry of Perception & Genetic and Hormonal Influences on Cognition
A Google Tech Talk
May 5, 2010
Presented by Michael Goard, PhD, and Emily Jacobs, PhD.
The majority of the human brain is comprised of a single structure, the neocortex, responsible for a range of cognitive functions, from sensory perception to abstract thought. However, despite this diversity of functions, the neocortex has a simple architecture it is comprised of numerous repeated motifs of a single stereotyped neural circuit. This talk will serve as an introduction to the structure and function of the neocortical circuit, particularly focusing on how it processes sensory input in order to generate cohesive perception of the external world. This will be followed by a description of recent experiments demonstrating how the neocortex can process sensory input in different ways depending on the behavioral state of the animal. Finally, there will be a discussion of how understanding neocortical function will lead to innovations in medicine, computing, and artificial intelligence.
The study of neuroscience is devoted to understanding how the brain functions uniformly across members of a species, but a critical question centers on how cognitive processes differ between members of a species, or in an individual under varying environmental conditions. In short, why do some people excel where others falter? This talk introduces two factors that contribute to individual differences in cognition: genes and hormones. This concept is examined through recent experiments demonstrating that specific cognitive processes vary throughout a womans menstrual cycle: certain women benefit from natural increases in estrogen, while others are impaired. Importantly, the impairing or enhancing effects of estrogen is intimately tied to the individuals background genetic milieu. The relevance of this work to womens health will be discussed. The estrogen-cognition literature (including population health studies on hormone replacement therapy) is famously inconsistent. We can now ask, at the level of the brain, why?
Michael Goard received his BA at Reed College in cognitive psychology, where he first became interested in the study of the brain. After graduation, he worked as a research technician at Caltech studying the physiology of synapses. He then completed his graduate work in neuroscience in Dr. Yang Dans laboratory at UC Berkeley, where he investigated the influence of neuromodulation on visual processing. In fall 2010, he will continue his research as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT .
Emily Jacobs received her BA at Smith College in neuroscience in 2004. She recently completed her graduate work in neuroscience in Mark D'Esposito's laboratory at UC Berkeley, where she was examining the influence of estrogen on cortical function and cognition. In fall 2010, she will continue her research with a joint appointment as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at UCSF and a postdoctoral-fellow at Harvard.