Impressions and Links
from the conference:

Aspects of NeuroScience

7th Conference, Nov. 24-26th 2017, Warszawa, Poland.

In November, I had the great pleasure of taking part in the 7th Aspects of NeuroScience Conference in Warszawa.

Tried to follow as many talks as possible. But, well, these notes are, of course, in no way, shape or form complete...
Rather, these notes were written on conference nights, as my way of keeping track of the events that I attended at the conference. And as a way of storing links and references for future reference.

But enough disclaimers, below, you'll find impressions and links from some of the conference talks and seminars, including links for further reading.
Great stuff! Indeed, already looking forward to 2018.


Friday, November 24th, 2017.

Nest & NestML tutorial.

High Performance Computing in NeuroScience.
by Jochen M. Eppler, Julich SuperComputing Center, Germany & Inga Blundell, Institute for Advanced Simulation, JARA, Germany.

The workshop gave an introdution to the Nest framework:
NEST is ideal for networks of spiking neurons of any size, for example:
- Models of information processing e.g. in the visual or auditory cortex of mammals.
- Models of network activity dynamics, e.g. laminar cortical networks or balanced random networks.
- Models of learning and plasticity.

Nest Workshop
Nest Workshop

Nest Workshop

From the Nest page (Nest Initiative):
(In Nest) the neural system is defined by a large number of neurons and their connections.

In a NEST network, different neuron and synapse models can coexist. Any two neurons can have multiple connections with different properties. Thus, the connectivity can in general not be described by a weight or connectivity matrix but rather as an adjacency list.

To manipulate or observe the network dynamics, the experimenter can define so-called devices, which represent the various instruments (for measuring and stimulation) found in an experiment. These devices write their data either to memory or to a file.

Jochen M. Epplers brilliant introduction to Nest gave us the first steps into building models with this ''community'' software.

Essential knowledge, as it isn't really practical (possible) anymore for individuals or institutes to develop their own tools.

Next up was Inga Blundell, with an introduction to NestMl - An abstract modelling language (for spiking neurons) that allows one to formally specify models and automatically produce simulation code that can run on various computer architectures
(Supporting domain experts in creating neuron models for the neural simulation tool NEST).

Undoubtedly, also a very useful introduction.

Nest Initiative

The Brain


Friday, November 24th, 2017.

tDCS in Creativity Research.

Transcranial brain stimulation.
by Caroline di Bernardi Luft, Queen Mary University, London.

Next up was Caroline di Bernardi Luft with an introduction to transcranial current brain stimulation.
A (no-invasive, well, sort of... smiley ) technique that has been used not only to improve cognitive function, but also to test the role of various brain centers in cognition.

Super exciting and a lot of fun, Caroline took us through some of the effects of transcranial direct (& alternating) current stimulation.
- And gave us a ''live demo''.



Most of us looked kind of scared when Caroline asked for volunteers.
But it was soon clear that there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of, as the courageous Ms. Oliwia Zaborowska volunteered...

Huge sighs of relief in the room, as Oliwia was being strapped in, and got the ''tDCS helmet'' on.

We ran through the consent form with Oliwia.
- Epilepsy in the family? No.
- Have you been feeling dizzy, or have you fainted (lost consciousness temporarily) in the last months? No.
etc. etc.
And then we were ready to ''turn on the Juice''.
Lots of jokes about the ''ethics people'', who would be worried about putting a current through Oliwias brain.

Just saved from sitting in the chair, where Oliwia was sitting now, the mood in the room was quite upbeat.

A couple of attempts didn't seem to work though.
Apparently, the current didn't go through the brain. But more likely, just went through the facial skin.

The helmet was re-adjusted. And now seemed to work. We all looked very closely at Oliwia. Indeed, science is such a wonderful thing ...

Caroline asked Oliwia if she was feeling anything...
After the failed attempts we didn't really expect anything...But this time was different.
Oliwia reported that ''the room was like a disco'' ...
''As expected'', Caroline responded, ''the current is going through, or influencing, the optic nerve''.

The audience was very pleased. Oliwia looked kind of puzzled.
A great day in the name of science.
Optic Nerve


Friday, November 24th, 2017.

Opening Lecture.
''Cortical layer with no known function''.

by Zoltan Molnar, Dept. of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, Uk.

Researchgate writes about Zoltan Molnar:
Zoltan Molnar's research focus is on the cerebral cortical development. It seeks to decipher how cerebral cortical neural cell fates are determined (with special attention in the earliest generated cells in the subplate and in the large pyramidal cells of layer 5), and how development of cortical functional specialisation (arealization) is determined by genetic and environmental factors.

Zolnar presentation on Facebook
Many interesting comments along the way in Zolnars talk.

Not only on ''construction work'' in the brain. Comments on functionality further developed the idea that ''the brain likes talk to itself'', as seen when e.g. the thalamus is relaying sensory signals, including motor signals, to the cerebral cortex, yet receives 10 times as much input from the cerebral regions than from our sensors. In Zolnars words: It is though the brain is in a kind of ''dream state'', where we receive a little input, just enough, to connect us to the world out there? Making sure that we focus our attention on the ''relevant'' input...

A great talk with a lot of details, yet still with an overview of how these various populations of cells talk with each other.

Here with thoughts on how 6b is connected, and plays a key role in cortical state control, integrating and modulating information processing.

For more see this link
(available December 2017).

The 6 layers of cerebral cortex:

Numbered from the surface inward, they are: I, molecular layer II, external granular layer III, external pyramidal layer IV, internal granular layer V, internal pyramidal layer and VI, multiform layer:

Cortex layers
Layers of cerebral cortex:
Cortex layers


Saturday, November 25th, 2017.

''Neurocomputational basis of social signals in the anterior cingulate cortex''.

by Matthew Apps, Dept. of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, Uk.

Asking the interesting question: How do we process how motivated another person is?

Computational model of motivation:
Motivation (steps):

- Evaluation, cost-benefit analysis.
- Action.
- Outcome: Reward, no-reward.

We not only calculate our own motiation, we do the same for other people in order to see how motivated they are.
Uniwersytet Warszawski

Uniwersytet Warszawski

Uniwersytet Warszawski
The interesting part here being a part of the anterior cingular cortex that apparently make ''motivation'' calculations (What is the Cost-Benefit of this action, how likely is a reward for the other person).

And updates these estimates baseds on new evidence:
Prediction error:
Actual Outcome - Expected Outcome

According to Apps, a better understanding of this framework for computing social signals might also improve our understanding of the underlying mechanisms in problems such as autism.
Where people with autism can process their own outcomes, but find it difficult to process and understand other peoples behaviour.

Uniwersytet Warszawski Biology

''Cognitive Neuroscience session''.

Saturday, November 25th, 2017.

Had a number of great talks.

I especially enjoyed Anna Beres' ''The behavioural and neural effects of chronic partial sleep deprivation. An EEG study''.
Turns out that it is not a good idea not to sleep enough ...

And there is plenty of things out there that can cause us to lose sleep:
- 85 % has experienced insomnia due to work anxiety.
- 78 % has experienced ''monday anxiety'' and sleeping problems on sunday nights.
Total sleep deprivation (TSD) can not only adversely affect the brain and cognitive function, making working memory and attention worse etc., it probably also has many other negative effects.

Interestingly, there is also a much longer recovery period than most people suspect.
Having slept 6 hours or less (for people that are used to sleeping much longer) takes 2 nights to recover from.

20 days of sleep deprivations causes sleepiness, mood disorders etc. for a long period afterwards (many days), and we shouldn't expect to do well on e.g. the Stroop Task until we have fully recovered (weeks after).

Oh, what wonders a good nights sleep can do.

Uniwersytet Warszawski Biology Department


Saturday, November 25th, 2017.

''Computational principles in auditory processing''.

by Bernhard Englitz, Institute for Neurophysiology, Donders Institute for NeuroScience, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

The focus of Englitz' research is the neural mechanisms of processing in complex stimulus systems.
Here it was about the computational principles in auditory processing.

Which, obviously, is nice to know, as you are sitting there trying to hear what is being said...

Indeed, the ear is a fascinationg thing.
Uniwersytet Warszawski

Starting from the Cochlea, there is clearly a lot of processing going on in the auditory system:
The cochlea is filled with a watery liquid, the perilymph, which moves in response to the vibrations coming from the middle ear via the oval window. As the fluid moves, the cochlear partition (basilar membrane and organ of Corti) moves; thousands of hair cells sense the motion via their stereocilia, and convert that motion to electrical signals that are communicated via neurotransmitters to many thousands of nerve cells.
These primary auditory neurons transform the signals into electrochemical impulses known as action potentials, which travel along the auditory nerve to structures in the brainstem for further processing.

Wiki: Auditory Processing

Uniwersytet Warszawski
Sound localization follows in the auditory brainstem. Followed with a general filterbank representation in the auditory cortex, and evidence integration in the parital cortex.
Where it is important than we can integrate the various complex sounds for decision making.

Looking as something as simple as Rain, it is indeed amazing that we hear all the different drops of rain (each drop sounds differently), and conclude that the overall picture is that ''it is raining''.

Uniwersytet Warszawski

Computational Neuroscience Session.

Saturday, November 25th, 2017.

Included talks about ''Evolving Spiking Neural Networks as Finite State Machine to Recognize Patterns in a Continuous Input Stream'' by M. Yaqoob, Poznan, Poland.
''Current Source Density analysis in electrophysiological research'' by M. Czerwinski, Warszawa, Poland.
And ''Computational model of a novel seizure pattern'' by W. Sredniawa, Warszawa, Poland.

Uniwersytet Warszawski


Sunday, November 26th, 2017.

Neurobiology Keynote Lecture.

''Studying the function and connectivity of neural networks in the Zebra fish brain'' by Emre Yaksi, Kavli Institute for Systems NeuroScience, Trondheim, Norway.

The habenula is a brain region with increasing popularity due to its strong link to addiction, mood disorders and experienced dependent fear.
Here it is observed that functional inputs from the zebrafish hippocampus and amygdala, and sensory inputs from visual and olfactory systems are the major drivers of (spontaneous) Habenula activity.
Where the group suggest that the Habenula functions as a sort of ''hub'' that can regulate the communication from sensory systems and limbic forebrain areas that can help in the control of animals behaviors.

A fascinating little creature, and a great talk.

Uniwersytet Warszawski

Fear Learning Session.

Sunday, November 26th, 2017.

Included talks about ''Remodelling of the brain circuits during extinction of the remote contextual fear memory'' by Kasper Lukasiewicz, Warszawa, Poland. ''Mapping memories'' by M. Diana Legutgo, Warszawa, Poland. And ''Role of the midline thalamus in fear learning and anxiety'' by Vivien Kanti, Budapest, Hungary. Followed by ''Phasic activity of the VTA dopaminergic neurons in fear memory retrieval'' by Karolina Karwowska, Krakow, Poland .

In the first session, I especially noted the (perhaps obvious, yet interesting) conclusion that
We observed that the network for the remote memory has higher interregional correlation than the network for the recent memory.
Indicating that the extinction of remote memory requires the co-activation of a higher number of regions than the extinction of recent memory.

How to get funding - Session.

Sunday, November 26th, 2017.

Discussion: ''How to get funding for young scientists and starting group leaders''.
Emre Yaksi presentation and Q&A:

Rather surprising, the conference also had a discussion on ''How to get funding''.
Clearly, useful, so the session was well attended, even though it was in the middle of the all important coffee break, and (also important) the poster session.

First you have to look at your own Key Performance Indicators:
  - Publications, positions (Basicly: What others are saying about you).

And (notice that) you will only be promoted to ''end-positions'', if you can obtain your own funding.

Along the way there will be a lot of writing ''grant applications''.

According to Emre Yaksi, it is important to note, that:
  - It is interesting to write grant applications. It is a chance to organize ideas and set goals.
  - A grant is like a roadmap, no one fulfills it 100 %
  - It is important to have well adjusted ambitions. Not too small, not to big.
  - A good proposal is divided into 2-3-4 work packages, where:
      - Package 1 is not that risky, workable, lab knows the techniques already.
      - Package 2 is a little more risky. More interesting potential results.
      - Package 3 is something noone has ever done this before. A great science paper.
         (Notice: Are there alternatives to the high-risk route, present risk assessments and alternatives)
Car Sales Techniques.
Know your audience:
Are you working on ''A cure for Alzheimers disease'' or are you looking at ''Accumulations of an amyloid peptide'' (could be two very different descriptions of the same thing).

Are you over-selling or are you under-selling what you are doing (the first presentation might be overselling, the second might be underselling).

Clearly, a very useful presentation.

Uniwersytet Warszawski


Sunday, November 26th, 2017.


''Measuring (un)conscious states: Research, clinical applications and ethics''.
by Athena Demertzi, Coma Science Group, University of Liege, Liege, Belgium.

According to William James:
''The mind is at every stage a theater of simultaneous possibilities. Consciousness consists in the comparison of these with each other, the selection of some, and the suppression of the rest by the reinforcing and inhibiting agency of attention''.
Yet, there is no widespread definition of what consciousness really is.

Diagnosis of ''disorders of consciousness'' are therefore rather difficult, but has improved in recent years with the help of new technologies. E.g. neuroimaging has helped with patient diagnosis, and is helpful when it comes to an understanding of what a conscious state (in a patient) really is.

Still, using the various measurement techniques is not unlike trying to figure out what the result (in a sportsmatch) is by listening from various positions in a stadium:
How would you put microphones in a stadium (in the middle of a world cup game) to see what the result is?
Different brain networks (E.g. the Default Mode Network (active during introspection), Dorsal Attention Network (active in connection with voluntary deployment of attention and reorientation to unexpected events), Salience Network (monitors the salience of external inputs and internal brain events), and Lateral Visual Network (important in complex emotional stimuli) etc.) are affected differenly when patients have consciousness disorders.

Brain Networks

Still, functional neuroimaging has assisted in patient diagnosis.

A super-interesting talk!

Communication difficulties in patients.

Sunday, November 26th, 2017.

Included talks about ''Distinguish states of consciousness with natural auditory textures'' by Urzula Goerska, Donders Institute, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. ''Neural correlates of communicative interactions recognition in schizophrenia'' by L. Okruszek, Institute of Psychology, Warszawa, Poland. And ''Do I know how I feel? Emotion comprehension and recognition in patients with mesial temporal epilepsy'' by Oliwia Zaborowska.

In the first session,
We performed EEG from 15 healthy controls, in wakefulness and deep sleep, and assess brain responses to changes in auditory textures (sounds).
Changes can be seen in parital regions, where the potential is scaling with increasing change time.

Responses were different form patients in vegative states.
Conclusion (kind of obvious, yet still interesting), the processing of stimuli varies with the state of consciousness.
Thus allowing a discrimination of the consciousness level in non-communicative patients.

Uniwersytet Warszawski

Closing Lecture.

''Emergence and mechanisms of cognition.''
by Gyorki Buzsaki, Buzsaki Lab, Neuroscience Institute, NY University, NYC, US.

The fundamental goal of the brain is to predict the future.
On the Buzsaki Lab homepage one reads:
Our working hypothesis is that in brain networks, especially those serving cognitive functions, the packaging and segmentation of neural information is supported by the numerous self-organized rhythms the brain generates. Brain rhythms allow for temporal correlations to occur at multiple time scales.
I.e. the Buzsaki Lab wants to study the syntax, and not just the vocabulary, of the brain.

But before we get there, there are lots of details to understand...

Take something like the Human Navigational System, where various Head Direction Cells increase their firing rates above baseline levels, only when the head points in specific directions. And where we have place cells that are activated,if we are in certain environments.

To say that it is complex is a big understatement.
There is rarely something like simple causation in the brain, according to Buzsaki, instead there is a lot of back and forth going on in the brain.

And it doesn't make it simpler that (some) systems in the brain (that are important for survival) are represented/duplicated in multiple places in the brain.

// Rebooting the brain after sleep, or after anesthesia, must clearly take some rather complex boot sequence, or ? //

Currently, we might need something like 10.000 transistors to build complex AI systems.
But we need many more neurons - to build the complex brain systems that we need (in order to move around in our complex environment).

Movement is important:
Whenever the brain has formed an hypothesis, it must move its sensors, to see if the hypothesis still holds, or if we need to update the hypothesis (For more, see my Enaction page).
Indeed, without action the brain isn't doing anything useful in the world.

A great talk. And a great ending to a great conference!

Already looking forward to the 2018 edition!

Pictures from Warszawa, Nov. 24-26, 2017.

Conference Venue.
Faculty of Biology, University of Warszawa, Poland

For more, see here: Uniwersytet Warszawski.


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