Blue Brain Virtual Talk - Cortical neuronal diversity supporting human cognition
The EPFL Blue Brain Project is delighted to welcome Huib Mansvelder for this virtual talk.
Why are some people able to think faster than others? It is a mystery how neurobiological factors contribute to differences in cognitive ability between individuals. Can differences in brain circuits, cells, or perhaps molecular networks contribute? Traditionally, research on the topic of the neurobiology of human mental ability follows two very different strategies: either investigating brain structure and function of areas in our brain that are involved in intelligence through brain imaging, or identifying genes and genetic loci associated with intelligence in genome wide association studies. However, we know little about the intermediate level: how do properties of brain cells relate to human cognition? Most of our understanding of how properties of brain cells contribute to cognition comes from laboratory animals. The emergence of single cell transcriptomics combined with functional and morphological analysis of neurons in human neocortex may offer an opportunity to understand how genes of intelligence can act on cortical structure and function to contribute to human mental ability. This talk is centered on the question of whether human neocortical architecture and neuron properties contribute to human cognition. I will discuss our recent work on adaptations in human neuron structure and function that distinguishes them from those of laboratory animals. Furthermore, I will show our recent approaches to link genetic, cellular, and brain-imaging studies by investigating whether expression of genes associated with human cognitive ability are associated with the neuronal properties in specific neuron types and brain areas.
Huib Mansvelder received his PhD in Neurophysiology from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 1999. In his thesis, he investigated the control of large dense-core vesicle release by voltage-gated calcium channels in neuroendocrine cells in the pituitary. During his postdoctoral research with Dan McGehee at the University of Chicago, he studied drug-induced synaptic plasticity in dopamine neurons, and found mechanisms by which nicotinic receptors alter glutamatergic and GABAergic synaptic transmission in the VTA. During his second postdoc at Columbia University New York with Rafael Yuste, rapid calcium dynamics in dendritic spines were studied using 2-photon imaging. In the summer of 2002, Huib started his own lab at VU University in Amsterdam. He became full professor in 2008 and since heads the department of Integrative Neurophysiology. His research focuses on how the prefrontal cortex orchestrates attention behavior in rodents, in particular in interaction with subcortical brain areas, such as the basal forebrain. In addition, his lab investigates how neuronal microcircuits in the human neocortex are organized, both anatomically as well as functionally, and how properties of human neurons relate to human cognition. Huib received various awards and honors for his work, such as the ERC advanced grant and selection to the Academy of Europe.