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Turning the cortically blind brain to see: from neural computations to system dynamics generating visual awareness in humans and monkeys

Objective

Visual awareness affords flexibility and experiential richness, and its loss following brain damage has devastating effects. However, patients with blindness following cortical damage may retain visual functions, despite visual awareness is lacking (blindsight). But, how can we translate non-conscious visual abilities into conscious ones after damage to the visual cortex? To place our understanding of visual awareness on firm neurobiological and mechanistic bases, I propose to integrate human and monkey neuroscience. Next, I will translate this wisdom into evidence-based clinical intervention. First, LIGHTUP will apply computational neuroimaging methods at the micro-scale level, estimating population receptive fields in humans and monkeys. This will enable analyzing fMRI signal similar to the way tuning properties are studied in neurophysiology, and to clarify how brain areas translate visual properties into responses associated with awareness. Second, LIGHTUP leverages a behavioural paradigm that can dissociate nonconscious visual abilities from awareness in monkeys, thus offering a refined animal model of visual awareness. Applying behavioural-Dynamic Causal Modelling to combine fMRI and behavioral data, LIGHTUP will build up a Bayesian framework that specifies the directionality of information flow in the interactions across distant brain areas, and their causal role in generating visual awareness. In the third part, I will devise a rehabilitation protocol that combines brain stimulation and visual training to promote the (re)emergence of lost visual awareness. LIGHTUP will exploit non-invasive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in a novel protocol that enables stimulation of complex cortical circuits and selection of the direction of connectivity that is enhanced. This associative stimulation has been proven to induce Hebbian plasticity, and we have piloted its effects in fostering visual awareness in association with visual restoration training.

Host institution

UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TORINO
Net EU contribution
€ 1 054 564,37
Address
Via Giuseppe Verdi 8
10124 Torino
Italy

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Region
Nord-Ovest Piemonte Torino
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Non-EU contribution
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (4)

UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TORINO
Italy
Net EU contribution
€ 1 054 564,37
Address
Via Giuseppe Verdi 8
10124 Torino

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Region
Nord-Ovest Piemonte Torino
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Non-EU contribution
€ 0,00
THE CHANCELLOR, MASTERS AND SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
United Kingdom
Net EU contribution
€ 266 250,00
Address
Wellington Square University Offices
OX1 2JD Oxford

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Region
South East (England) Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Oxfordshire
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Non-EU contribution
€ 0,00
STICHTING KATHOLIEKE UNIVERSITEIT BRABANT
Netherlands
Net EU contribution
€ 508 397,63
Address
Warandelaan 2
5037 AB Tilburg

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Region
Noord-Brabant Midden-Noord-Brabant
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Non-EU contribution
€ 0,00
KATHOLIEKE UNIVERSITEIT LEUVEN
Belgium
Net EU contribution
€ 165 000,00
Address
Oude Markt 13
3000 Leuven

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Region
Vlaams Gewest Prov. Vlaams-Brabant Arr. Leuven
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Non-EU contribution
€ 0,00