Area 4

Systems neuroscience

Team leader

Strategic objectives

The growing knowledge of synaptic physiology and brain circuits, together with the development of new instruments with which to register, analyze and model the activity of a large number of neurons has made possible to address one of the great pending challenges in neuroscience: to understand the relationship between the activity of the neuron population and behavioral performance. The objective of the systems neuroscience group is to address this challenge combining experimental studies in cerebral cortex networks with a combined experimental and theorical approach.

Main lines of research

  • Electrical activity generation and control mechanisms in neuronal networks – specifically, in the cerebral cortex.
  • Mechanisms of neuronal activity synchronization in cortical networks.
  • Distributed cortical network mechanisms implicated in selective attention, working memory, perceptual decision-making and executive control.
  • Use of virtual reality in neuroscience
  1. Cortical networks and EVENT Lab (Virtual Environments in Neuroscience and Technology). Headed by Dr. Maria Victoria Sánchez (IDIBAPS)
    Neuronal connectivity and cellular and synaptic properties determine and shape the emergent population activity (spontaneous or invoked) generated by the neuronal networks. Such activity has effects upon the network, with the regulation of relevant mechanisms such as synaptic plasticity. We are interested in different aspects of the activity generated: the mechanisms that regulate it, the information it encodes, and the consequences of this activity upon the network.

    Changes in the functional structure of the cerebral cortex results into altered patterns of the emergent activity. We are studying this in transgenic mice that are models of different neurological disorders. The understanding of these changes gives us hints mechanisms underlying these processes and their possible reversion with treatment.

    Lastly, integration of the cortical information giving rise to body representation and the combination of brain-computer interfaces and virtual reality for understanding these processes, is another research line of our group, as part of the EVENT Lab (
  2. Theoretical neurobiology of cortical networks. Headed by Dr. Albert Compte (IDIBAPS)
    We investigate the mechanisms that support working memory and memory-guided discriminations in neuronal networks of the cerebral cortex. We study the role of microcircuit connectivity, long-range intracortical feedback loops, and synaptic dynamics in maintaining active memories over short periods of time. We formulate our hypothesis quantitatively in computational network models, we test their behavioral predictions in psychophysical experiments, and we analyze neural data from collaborating laboratories to validate or refute the proposed mechanisms.
  3. Cortical Circuit Dynamics. Headed by Dr. Jaime de la Rocha (IDIBAPS)
    We study of the neuronal mechanisms underlying perception and decision making. In particular we are interested in the neural basis of auditory representation, its dependence on brain state and expectation. We investigate the generation and spatio-temporal structure of ongoing cortical activity and its impact on perception. We are particularly interested in the variability observed in cortical activity, the underlying mechanisms and its impact on behavior. Our techniques include cortical recordings in rats, quantitative analysis and computational modeling.

Research Group

Theoretical Neurobiology of Cortical Circuits

Albert Compte


Our research aims at understanding the mechanisms that operate in the cortical microcircuit in order to conduct computations of relevance to behavior. The tools we use are computer-implemented cortical network models with biological plausibility, and technically sophisticated data-analysis tools. We work in parallel at two levels. On the one hand, we model the activity of the cortical microcircuit in order to understand and quantify the mechanisms underlying the generation of population activity in the circuit. On the other hand, we study the physiological bases of cognitive capacities such as working memory and selective attention, and their dysfunction in psychiatric disorders.

Research Group

Cortical Circuit Dynamics


We study the neuronal circuit mechanisms underlying cognitive functions such as perception, decision making and memory. For this purpose we train rats and mice to perform simple perceptual discrimination tasks and try to characterize the variables that determine their behavior (e.g. stimulus features, brain state, short-term memory, etc). We aim to determine the brain areas where these variables are represented and the detailed circuit dynamics underlying their processing. We are interested on the generation of ongoing cortical activity, its relation to neuronal variability and their impact on behavior. We also investigate how expectation is generated from recent experiences and how it impacts the representation of sensory stimuli. We combine population cortical recordings, quantitative analysis and computational modeling to address these questions. We moreover apply this methodology to understand the mechanisms underlying some cognitive impairments characteristic of neural disorders such as anti-NMDAR encephalitis or schizophrenia.