Modeling motor aspects of Basal Ganglia to understand Parkinson’s disease.
Computational neuroscience today seems to face an interesting paradox. While there are accurate, extremely detailed computational models at molecular level (ion channels, signaling pathways etc) and cell level (whole neurons with dendritic arbors and channel/receptor distributions etc), our systems-level understanding of important brain structures (thalamus, basal ganglia, hippocampus,..) is still quite sketchy. People spend enormous amount of time/money to study drug-receptor interactions but very little is known about the drug action at large-scale, systems level. There is an urgent need to develop coarse-grained, large-scale, systems-level models of brain function with immense potential clinical applications. Some specific questions are being studied:
- How does the brain produce handwriting?
- How do we copy simple line diagrams?
- Can the diverse functions of Basal Ganglia be accommodated in a single model?
- What is the role of Basal Ganglia in motor function e.g., in handwriting?
- What are the neural substrates of altered handwriting in Parkinsonian patients?
Developing systems level models of specific aspects of cardiovascular system
The neural information processing principles developed over the past quarter century have revolutionized the way we understand brain. We now routinely use “systems” jargon to describe brain function: we relate memories to attractors, chaos to normal physiological function, synchronized neural firing to sensory integration/binding, real brain maps to self-organizing maps models etc. Such a vast, bold program of using slightly abstract (“neural network”) models to describe the function of a biological system had achieved whatever success it did because the idea of brain as an organ that processes “information” is generally acceptable even probably to a hard core biologist. But then, one may ask, are these concepts relevant to other physiological systems, say the cardiovascular system? It seems that simplified, systems-level, models of cardiovascular system can have immense clinical applications. Some specific questions are being studied: