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Neural Representations of Space & Time

Neuronal representations of space-time are of fundamental importance for survival – from localizing prey by auditory cues and visually detecting moving objects to the planning and neuronal control of future movements. Successful locomotion relies on continually evaluating changing sensory inputs in real time and taking previously stored information into account to generate spatially coordinated and appropriately timed motor actions. Our brain solves these challenging computational tasks with apparent ease, using intricate feedback circuits in distributed neural circuits whose functional architecture adapts in time. Pathologies of visuomotor control and age-related navigation deficits reveal that the underlying processes hang in a delicate balance; limitations and failures of current technical applications demonstrate that our understanding of some of the most basic functions of nervous systems is far from complete. Nonetheless, in recent years, many exciting new discoveries have been made about the neuronal representations of space-time.

Goal-directed navigation is accomplished by invertebrates and vertebrates alike and is an important objective in many technical applications and robotics. A thorough understanding of the characteristics of neuronal representations of space-time and how they are accomplished is thus of fundamental interest in biology, medicine and engineering. This can only be achieved by an interdisciplinary combination of theoretical, experimental (anatomy, physiology, psychophysics), and technical approaches. Therefore, the Bernstein Center Munich has an interdisciplinary and comparative approach to answer the question of how living organisms (have learnt to) solve the hard computational problems inherent to spatio-temporal information processing. In turn, we can use the results of these investigations to advance our basic concepts of “computing” in space and time and create novel paradigms that surpass the limits of traditional algorithms. This double role of Computational Neuroscience has led to major advances in many research areas and will have a large impact on the future development of neuroscience, computer science and engineering. In this spirit, we will also extend the focus of the Bernstein Center Munich to include interactions and integration of information across sensory modalities as well as the neuronal control and the planning of movements.

It is our joint goal to develop Computational Neuroscience into a key neuroscience discipline and core bioengineering technology. To this end, the Bernstein Center Munich is organized around four branches: Through theoretical concepts and methods (A), we aim to advance and closely connect experimental neuroscience (B), engineering (C) and translational research to medicine (D). Building on our expertise in cellular, circuit-level and systems neuroscience, and maintaining our joint research theme – Neuronal Representations of Space-Time – we extend our scientific focus from neuronal processing within individual sensory systems to multimodal integration and goal directed navigation. Six sub-themes foster intense scientific and methodological interactions strongly interlink the center’s Principial Research Projects: Projects concerning Invariant Representations, Population Codes and Multimodal Interactions address key concepts of neural computation and set the stage for understanding representations of space-time on the single-cell, network, and system’s level. Projects concerning Closed-Loop Technologies, Hearing & Neuroprostheses and Navigation forge methodological links across projects and cover important application aspects.