A Global Approach to Neuroscience

How do multiple brain regions coordinate and interact to produce behavior? The Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain aims to solve this mystery.

How do millions of neurons work together to support adaptive behavior? A new international collaboration aims to find out. Courtesy of Michael Häusser/University College London

An animal foraging for food is engaged in a complex array of mental calculations. It needs to evaluate the smells and sounds in its environment, balancing signs of food with the possibility of predators. It has to recall past foraging jaunts to note which spots have been fruitful or dangerous in the past. It has to weigh the potential reward against risks, given its current state of hunger. And, finally, it has to formulate and execute a plan of action, darting across an open field to grab a desired morsel.

Such computations unfold simultaneously in millions of neurons that interact both locally and across multiple brain regions. Individual neuroscience labs have gained glimpses of how different aspects of cognition function, mostly within specific brain structures. But how multiple brain regions coordinate and interact to produce behavior is still largely a mystery.

In 2017, the SCGB launched 20 new projects in which teams of experimentalists, theoreticians and computational experts explore some of the biggest questions in neuroscience. The largest of these is the International Brain Laboratory (IBL), a collaboration among 21 labs in four different countries. The scale of the IBL breaks new ground for a field that has typically been the domain of individual labs or a few labs working together.

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