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Decoding the brain’s signals

How brain cells encode our perceptions has been one of the major scientific questions of the 21st century.

UTSC partnership will develop tools to understand electrical activity in the brain

Neurons in the brain encode our perceptions using electrical signals, but the underlying code they use is still a mystery.

Thanks to a Young Investigators’ Grant from the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), U of T Scarborough’s Blake Richards will help develop tools that may just crack the code.

Richards, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, argues that a conclusive answer can only be reached by experimentally directing brain activity to create illusory perceptions. The tools for this, however, do not yet exist. The research program supported by the grant will explore a potential new technique that leverages the brain's built-in mechanisms.

“Using an interdisciplinary approach,” Richards explains, “combining cellular electrophysiology, multiphoton imaging in behaving mice, and computational modelling, we will explore how different types of cells in the neocortex can control electrical activity in the brain at a high-quality resolution.”

How the brain encodes perceptions has been one of the major scientific questions of the 21st century. Understanding this process could lead to new technologies to treat perceptual or mental disorders and even prevent hallucinations for people with schizophrenia.

The grant will support a project that spans three continents. Richards—whose area of expertise includes neurophysiology, systems neuroscience and computational neuroscience—will work with young researchers at Oxford University in England and Korea University in Seoul. 

The HFSP’s Young Investigators’ Grant funds investigations into the complex mechanisms of living organisms. Grants are awarded for ground-breaking research involving extensive collaboration among teams of scientists working in different countries and in different disciplines.


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