Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


RAT MIRROR CELL Report Summary

Project ID: 335328
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Norway

Mid-Term Report Summary - RAT MIRROR CELL (Deconstructing action planning and action observation in parietal circuits in rats)

Every day of our lives, our brains continuously plan and execute goal-directed actions, and without any effort we are readily aware of the actions and intentions of others around us. While these capacities may seem very familiar, their biological underpinnings are only beginning to be understood. The main objective of this ERC project is therefore to attain a deeper mechanistic understanding of the biological mechanisms which make action planning and action understanding possible.

We use rodents in this line of work since they can be trained to perform a wide variety of behavioral tasks, and because powerful techniques exist to record and manipulate neural activity freely behaving experimental subjects. For example, one of the major goals in this work is to better understand how the motor system generates goal-directed behaviors. To this end we are studying self-motion coding in the parietal and pre-motor cortical regions of rats while they compute novel navigational routes to reach a goal location.

Another major goal of our work is to understand how the brain interprets observed actions, which is thought to take place via “mirror” neurons. These are cells embedded throughout our motor system and are activated whether an action is performed or merely observed, but the biological mechanism by which mirroring happens remains a mystery. We are investigating this topic using in vivo calcium imaging in parietal and frontal motor cortices of mice while they perform and observe various goal-directed motor behaviors. We are employing miniature head-mounted microscopes on our animals to record up to 200 neurons at a time, which allows the comparison of population-level coding properties during in a variety of natural behaviors. Though this line of research is still ongoing, we are finding promising indications that the mouse will prove a powerful system in which to study the cellular substrates of action observation.

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