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  • Colloquium: Brains in Space: An Interdisciplinary Research Colloquium on Spatial Navigation

Colloquium: Brains in Space: An Interdisciplinary Research Colloquium on Spatial Navigation

In this colloquium, speakers will present their research in various areas of spatial navigation, including behavioral, neuroscientific, and theoretical approaches. The goal is to foster interdisciplinary discussions along the lines of the review article "A Map of Spatial Navigation for Neuroscience" (Parra-Barrero et al., 2023) that proposes a taxonomy of spatial navigation processes in mammals. The talks will cover a diverse range of topics, from the neural underpinnings of navigation to complex navigation behaviors. Attendees will gain a better understanding of how the mammalian brain represents and navigates through space, as well as learn about several cognitive processes such as learning and memory through the lens of spatial navigation.

Takes place every week virtually on Tuesday from 16:00 to 17:30 CEST (central European summer time)
First appointment is on 16.04.2024
Last appointment is on 16.07.2024

Zoom link: https://ruhr-uni-bochum.zoom.us/j/68766911124?pwd=MFErK284UmN5V25wZzd5L1FCaWo3QT09

Schedule (provisional)

16.04.24 Eloy Parra Barrero - Instituto Cajal CSIC
A taxonomy of spatial navigation processes
In recent decades, neuroscientists have discovered and characterized a whole zoo of neural representations of space. However, relatively little attention has been paid to the navigation behaviors these representations are meant to enable. Drawing insights from behavioral, neurobiological and robotics research, we have proposed a taxonomy of spatial navigation behaviors in mammals that can help guide interdisciplinary research into the neural basis of spatial navigation (Parra-Barrero et al., 2023). I will introduce the taxonomy and showcase its usefulness in identifying potential issues with common experimental approaches, correctly interpreting neural activity and pointing to new avenues of research.
30.04.24 Marko Nardini - Durham University
Learning effective perception and action in space
Our experience of the world seems to unfold seamlessly in a unitary 3D space. For this to be possible, the brain must merge numerous different sensory inputs and cognitive representations. How does it learn to do so? I discuss work on two key combination problems: coordinating multiple frames of reference (e.g. egocentric and allocentric), and coordinating multiple sensory signals (e.g. visual and proprioceptive). I focus on two populations whose spatial processing we can observe at a crucial stage of being configured and optimised: children, whose spatial abilities are still developing, and naïve adults learning new spatial skills, such as sensing distance using new auditory cues. The work uses a model-based approach to compare behaviour with the predictions of alternative information processing models. This lets us see when and how-during development, and with experience-the perceptual-cognitive computations underpinning our experiences in space change. I will discuss progress on understanding the limits of effective spatial computation for perception and action, and how lessons from the developing spatial cognitive system can inform approaches to augmenting human abilities with new sensory signals provided by technology.
07.05.24 Laurenz Wiskott & Eddie Seabrook - Ruhr University Bochum
Self-organization of spatial representations: Slow Feature Analysis and Successor Representation
Slow feature analysis (SFA) is an unsupervised learning method that is able to learn spatial representations from visual data akin to that of grid cells. Combined with independent component analysis (ICA) it leads to place cell and head direction cell responses. The successor representation (SR) is a spatial representation emerging in reinforcement learning (RL) studies of navigation with changing reward contingencies. Even though these two methods have very different origins, it is interesting to note that under some assumptions they lead to equivalent representations.  Here we will introduce SFA and SR and discuss their relationship with each other.
14.05.24 Elizabeth Chrastil - University of California at Irvine
Learning, aging, and individual differences in human spatial navigation

Navigation is a central part of daily life. For some, getting around is easy, while others struggle. Some clinical populations, such as those with Alzheimer’s Disease, display wandering behaviors and extensive disorientation. Working at the interface between immersive virtual reality and neuroimaging techniques, my research uses these complementary approaches to inform questions about how we acquire and use spatial knowledge. In this talk, I will discuss both some of my recent work and current experiments that center on three main themes: 1) how we learn new environments, 2) how the brain tracks spatial information, and 3) how individuals differ in their spatial abilities. My work also examines changes in the brain across the lifespan, including major transitions such as menopause and pregnancy. More broadly, I will discuss how navigation lends insight into processes of human learning and memory. The behavioral and neuroimaging studies presented in this talk inform new frameworks for understanding spatial knowledge, leading to novel approaches to answering the next major questions in navigation, learning, and memory.

28.05.24 Laure Rondi-Reig - Sorbonne université, CNRS, Inserm
Spatial disorientation: mechanisms and functional implication
Spatial disorientation is a disorder that affects an individual's ability to find their way in their environment. Manifestations of spatial disorientation can occur at both sensory and cognitive levels, with symptoms such as a loss of bearings, sensations of rotation, difficulties in orienting oneself or an inability to recognize familiar places. These disorders can have significant impacts on the daily lives of affected individuals, creating a loss of autonomy when travelling. Spatial disorientation therefore represents both a scientific and clinical challenge, requiring a multidisciplinary approach to better understand its mechanisms and develop effective interventions. The results I will present come from a translational approach I've been developing for several years. On the one hand, our studies in mice enable to investigate the underlying mechanisms of spatial disorientation, and on the other hand, our behavioral observations in humans allow to propose a clinical assessment of spatial memory. In this talk, I will first describe how spatial orientation skills develop during childhood and into adulthood, and then describe how certain pathologies can contribute to spatial disorientation. Finally, I'll present our working hypotheses, which allow us to explore the mechanisms that might explain these disorientations.
11.06.24 Denis Sheynikhovich  - Vision Institute, Sorbonne University
Spatial geometry and landmark processing in human navigation across the lifespan
Age effects on human spatial cognition have been mainly characterized in terms of egocentric (body-centered) and allocentric (world-centered) wayfinding behavior. It was hypothesized that allocentric spatial coding, as a special high-level cognitive ability, develops later and deteriorates earlier than the egocentric one throughout lifetime. However, an alternative hypothesis is that navigation difficulties in aged people are associated with deficits in processing and encoding spatial cues. In particular, a long line of animal and human research suggests that landmarks are processed separately from geometric cues in the mammalian brain. In this talk I will present recent studies from our group, showing that landmark processing follows an inverted-U dependence on age, while spatial geometry processing is conserved across the lifespan. These results cast a new light on previous aging studies of navigation, where subjects were asked to navigate using landmarks in environments with ambiguous geometry. More generally, this work contributes to the characterization of compensatory adaptation to age-related deficits, an important prerequisite for the development of rehabilitation solutions, as well as for space design that can improve safety and quality of life in the aging population.
02.07.24 Francesca Sargolini - Aix Marseille Université
From path integration to distance estimation : role of the medial entorhinal cortex
Neuronal processes underlying mammals’ navigation relies on the integration of two types of sensory cues: those extracted from the environment (external cues, e.g. visual, olfactory and auditory) and those generated by the animal own movements (self-motion, e.g., vestibular, somatosensory information, motor efference copy, and optic flow). In darkness or in novel or cue-poor environments, external cues are useless or unavailable and navigation is mainly supported by self-motion cues. This navigation, called path integration, is based on animal ability to estimate its current position by continuously updating its location relative to the starting point. To achieve this, the animal integrates online self-motion cues to sum distances and directions along the path. In the first part of my talk I will provide experimental evidence showing that the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) is a major component of the brain network involved in path integration. Then, I will focus on the neural processes involved in computing distances during navigation. Path integration abilities possibly rely on the activity of a particular type of space-coding neurons within the MEC that are called grid cells. By studying their activity in behaving rats we have shown that 1) grid cell firing properties are shaped by distance information and 2) grid cell activity coupled with MEC-LFP oscillations in the theta band provide an efficient mechanism to compute distances on a trial by trial basis.
09.07.24 Sandhiya Vijayabaskaran - Ruhr University Bochum
Interactions between task, strategy, and sensory inputs shape spatial representations and behaviors in artificial agents
Reinforcement learning provides the opportunity to study how spatial behaviors and representations interact and influence one another in a closed loop. In this talk, I will present simulation results from such a closed-loop model, where an artificial agent learns to navigate a virtual environment using visual input. First, I will show how task demands and the use of an allocentric or egocentric reference frame affect the learning and spatial representations that emerge in the agent. Next, by adding an additional input signal, I will discuss how the agent can make use of multiple signals to navigate and if these compete or are integrated. Taken together, these results can help us better understand how different factors can impact learning, behaviors and representations in artificial agents.
16.07.24 Aaron Wilber - Florida State University
Reference Frame Coordination in a Parietal-Hippocampal Network

Deficits in spatial learning and memory occur in many psychiatric and neurological disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease). The neural mechanism of these deficits may involve a distinct loss in specific spatial frames of reference or a loss in coordination across reference frames, such as determining the appropriate action for an allocentric location (e.g., turn right when oriented north at a specific location). Investigation of these basic neurobiological mechanisms underlying spatial navigation is critically important for establishing a complete understanding of the neural underpinnings of spatial deficits in psychiatric disorders and brain diseases. Such investigation will facilitate the development of more precise diagnostic tools and therapeutic interventions to help manage or reverse these diseased and disordered brain states, and on a broader level will further our understanding of the neural basis of episodic memory, recognizing objects from a variety of viewpoints, and even inform understanding of basic organizing principles of the brain. In this talk, I describe work to uncover hippocampal-cortical dynamics that support fluid interactions with the environment during navigation. I present results from electrophysiology recordings in rats performing multiple novel tasks designed to engage spatial reference frames, showing that communication between the parietal cortex, hippocampus, and anterior thalamus allows for fluid coordination between body and world centered reference frames. I conclude with a brief introduction to a new area of research in my laboratory focused on a task for assessing reference frame coordination.



Course type
Summer Term 2024


Document A map of spatial navigation for neuroscience

Parra-Barrero, E., Vijayabaskaran, S., Seebrook, E., Wiskott, L., Cheng, S. (2023). A map of spatial navigation for neuroscience. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 152. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2023.105200

The Institut für Neuroinformatik (INI) is a central research unit of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. We aim to understand the fundamental principles through which organisms generate behavior and cognition while linked to their environments through sensory systems and while acting in those environments through effector systems. Inspired by our insights into such natural cognitive systems, we seek new solutions to problems of information processing in artificial cognitive systems. We draw from a variety of disciplines that include experimental approaches from psychology and neurophysiology as well as theoretical approaches from physics, mathematics, electrical engineering and applied computer science, in particular machine learning, artificial intelligence, and computer vision.

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