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Turning the cortically blind brain to see: from neural computations to system dynamicsgenerating 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.
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Host institution

UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TORINO

Address

Via Giuseppe Verdi 8
10124 Torino

Italy

Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 1 067 288,37

Beneficiaries (3)

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UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TORINO

Italy

EU Contribution

€ 1 067 288,37

THE CHANCELLOR, MASTERS AND SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

United Kingdom

EU Contribution

€ 260 000

STICHTING KATHOLIEKE UNIVERSITEIT BRABANT

Netherlands

EU Contribution

€ 666 923,63

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 772953

Status

Ongoing project

  • Start date

    1 August 2018

  • End date

    31 July 2023

Funded under:

H2020-EU.1.1.

  • Overall budget:

    € 1 994 212

  • EU contribution

    € 1 994 212

Hosted by:

UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI TORINO

Italy