Ranulfo Romo, M.D., D.Sc.
Professor of Neuroscience at the Institute of Cellular Physiology, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
Audio and slides from the 2012 Keynote Address are available on the Cambridge Research Systems website.
Conversion of sensory signals into perceptual decisions
Saturday, May 12, 2012, 7:00 pm, Royal Ballroom 4-5
Most perceptual tasks require sequential steps to be carried out. This must be the case, for example, when subjects discriminate the difference in frequency between two mechanical vibrations applied sequentially to their fingertips. This perceptual task can be understood as a chain of neural operations: encoding the two consecutive stimulus frequencies, maintaining the first stimulus in working memory, comparing the second stimulus to the memory trace left by the first stimulus, and communicating the result of the comparison to the motor apparatus. Where and how in the brain are these cognitive operations executed? We addressed this problem by recording single neurons from several cortical areas while trained monkeys executed the vibrotactile discrimination task. We found that primary somatosensory cortex (S1) drives higher cortical areas where past and current sensory information are combined, such that a comparison of the two evolves into a decision. Consistent with this result, direct activation of the S1 can trigger quantifiable percepts in this task. These findings provide a fairly complete panorama of the neural dynamics that underlies the transformation of sensory information into an action and emphasize the importance of studying multiple cortical areas during the same behavioral task.
Ranulfo Romo is Professor of Neuroscience at the Institute of Cellular Physiology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He received his M.D. degree from UNAM and a D.Sc. in the field of neuroscience from the University of Paris in France. His postdoctoral work was done with Wolfram Schultz at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and Vernon Mountcastle at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Romo has received the Demuth Prize in Neuroscience from the Demuth Foundation, the National Prize on Sciences and Arts from the Mexican government and the Prize in Basic Medical Sciences from the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS). He is a member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, the Neurosciences Research Program headed by Nobel Prize Gerald Edelman and a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. Since 1991 Romo is a Howard Hughes International Research Scholar and recently was elected member of El Colegio Nacional.