Understanding disorders of the brain through computational models

Computers are able simulate some things that the human brain can do. For example, through carefully programmed sequences of steps, a computer can hold information, weigh up possible options, and initiate actions.  By likening the brain to a computer, we can break down thought processes into sequences of simpler steps, which are easier to understand.

Through computational neuroscience, we try to work out what steps someone takes, in their brain, when they think or act. Our research group applies these ideas to three domains that are affected by neurological illnesses:

Motivation

Motivation drives us to do things. Many brain disorders impair motivation, causing apathy. This can be catastrophic, leaving patients disabled, and is of course very stressful for carers. Understanding the anatomy and chemistry of motivation may permit treatments of these disorders.

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Motor control

Many neurological problems affect our movements. By studying the paths of movements, and how those paths can be adjusted, we are building a picture of how groups of neurons might work together to create smooth, controlled actions.

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Working memory

Remembering what we have just seen, done, or are about to do, is a natural ability for most of us. However certain diseases can interfere with these kinds of short-term memory. By studying how groups of neurons interact to retain information over brief intervals, we may begin to understand how this goes wrong in neurodegenerative diseases.

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