Understanding disorders of the brain through computational models
Computers are able simulate some things that the human brain can do. Through carefully programmed sequences of steps, it can hold information, weigh up possible options, and initiate actions.
At the moment, our only clear route to understand how the brain works, is by understanding what sequences of steps it takes. In other words, by likening the brain to a computer, we can break down thought processes into simpler components, which are easier to understand.
This is the basic idea of computational neuroscience. Can we work out what steps someone takes, in their brain, when they think or act? Our group applies these ideas to three domains that are affected by neurological illnesses:
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.
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.