Active vision 2
Active vision 2

NWO ENW-M grant for unique 3-photon microscope

Researchers at the Donders Institute and the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN) have received a NWO ENW-M-invest grant for research on attention and perception. The grant will be used for a 3-photon microscope suitable for macaques, the only one of its kind in Europe. Researchers Timo van Kerkoerle, Richard van Wezel, and Pieter Roelfsema (NIN) will use the microscope to study how our brains can make us look at the world with attention, a crucial aspect of our daily functioning.

Dr. Timo van Kerkoerle investigates the cellular mechanisms in brains that allow us to perceive the environment and focus our attention on what is important to us. Take, for example, the image accompanying this article. You probably only see individual dashes, like sprinkles. But by now focusing your attention on the yellow lines, you can discover that there is a square hidden in the image. And can you now also recognise the circle, in the blue lines? Once you have seen these two shapes, you can choose which of the two you want to see, the circle or the square. And although the image remains the same, what you perceive changes depending on what you want to see.

With the new grant, the Dutch Deep Imaging Platform (DDIP) will be set up, led by dr. van Kerkoerle, around an advanced 3-photon microscope that will allow for detailed and real-time viewing of neuronal activity, which is essential for studying complex processes such as attention and perception.

"Three-photon microscopy allows us to examine deeper parts of the brain without causing damage, which is crucial for understanding how neural networks work," explains Dr Van Kerkoerle. "This could lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of complex mental processes as they normally work in humans, but also ultimately how they may be affected in mental diseases such as schizophrenia, autism and depression."

How will the research be conducted?

The team of Dr van Kerkoerle, Prof. van Wezel, and Prof. Roelfesema will use the 3-photon microscope to study the activity of individual neurons. This will be done using macaques, among others, because their brains are very similar to those of humans and because these animals can reliably perform complex cognitive tasks, which is essential for answering the research questions.

"The welfare of the animals is our highest priority," stresses Dr Van Kerkoerle. "We work with a limited number of animals under very strict European guidelines to obtain both scientifically robust and ethically and ethologically sound results."

This research is a unique way to gain a better understanding of the cellular mechanisms of attention and perception, which could ultimately improve the treatment of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and depression. In addition, the insights from this research can be applied in the development of advanced AI systems. Indeed, by understanding how biological systems perform complex tasks, we can improve AI systems.

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