Science@Cal Lecture, November 2010

Ryan Canolty

On November 20, our talk was given by Dr. Ryan Canolty, and was entitled “The brain’s got rhythm: the role of neuronal oscillations in regulating large-scale brain networks”.

What role do neuronal oscillations play in shaping computation and communication in multi-scale brain networks? Somehow, billions of individual nerve cells coordinate their activity so precisely that it results in a single unified event, such as a toddler taking her first steps, an athlete scoring the perfect goal, or a poet find just the right word to express the inexpressible. While complex, the neuronal activity required for perception, cognition, and action occurs efficiently and effortlessly. How does this happen? Accumulating evidence suggests that information is dynamically integrated across multiple spatial and temporal scales within the brain, and that a hierarchy of interacting oscillations may help regulate this multi-scale integration. Like the manual transmission of a car, brain rhythms seem to form an interlocking system ideal for connecting fast events to the slow and the very small to the very large. In this talk, I focus on the relationship linking the activity of single nerve cells to the brain rhythms generated by larger populations. Next, I give a sketch of how this relationship may prove critical for top-down control of functionally related but anatomically-dispersed groups of neurons scattered across the brain. Finally, I conclude with a glimpse of how coordinated global patterns of oscillatory coupling may lead to new clinical applications such as brain-machine interfaces.

Ryan T. Canolty is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. His primary research interests center on the role of neuronal oscillations in local computation and long-range communication in multi-scale brain networks. How does a local population of interconnected neurons coordinate their spiking activity when engaged in a particular functional operation? How do widely-distributed brain regions rapidly form the transient functional networks needed to support complex perception, cognition, and action? As part of his graduate research, Ryan used subdural electrocorticogram (ECoG) signals recorded directly from the brains of neurosurgical patients to investigate the spatiotemporal dynamics of the large-scale networks underlying attention, memory, and language. Before graduate school, he served as an officer at the U.S. Naval Nuclear Power Training Command teaching nuclear physics and thermodynamics. Before that, he graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Mathematics and Cognitive Neuroscience. If you go all the way back, you’ll find that he was born in the back seat of a car on the way to the hospital. He now prefers to sit in front.

You can watch the video of his talk by clicking on the image below.

You can also see details of the next talk in the series, and the full calendar of talks