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Title: Action selection in the rhythmic brain : the role of the basal ganglia and tremor
Author: Fountas, Zafeirios
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 6309
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2016
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Low-frequency oscillatory activity has been the target of extensive research both in cortical structures and in the basal ganglia (BG), due to numerous reports of associations with brain disorders and the normal functioning of the brain. Additionally, a plethora of evidence and theoretical work indicates that the BG might be the locus where conflicts between prospective actions are being resolved. Whereas a number of computational models of the BG investigate these phenomena, these models tend to focus on intrinsic oscillatory mechanisms, neglecting evidence that points to the cortex as the origin of this oscillatory behaviour. In this thesis, we construct a detailed neural model of the complete BG circuit based on fine-tuned spiking neurons, with both electrical and chemical synapses as well as short-term plasticity between structures. To do so, we build a complete suite of computational tools for the design, optimization and simulation of spiking neural networks. Our model successfully reproduces firing and oscillatory behaviour found in both the healthy and Parkinsonian BG, and it was used to make a number of biologically-plausible predictions. First, we investigate the influence of various cortical frequency bands on the intrinsic effective connectivity of the BG, as well as the role of the latter in regulating cortical behaviour. We found that, indeed, effective connectivity changes dramatically for different cortical frequency bands and phase offsets, which are able to modulate (or even block) information flow in the three major BG pathways. Our results indicate the existence of a multimodal gating mechanism at the level of the BG that can be entirely controlled by cortical oscillations, and provide evidence for the hypothesis of cortically-entrained but locally-generated subthalamic beta activity. Next, we explore the relationship of wave properties of entrained cortical inputs, dopamine and the transient effectiveness of the BG, when viewed as an action selection device. We found that cortical frequency, phase, dopamine and the examined time scale, all have a very important impact on the ability of our model to select. Our simulations resulted in a canonical profile of selectivity, which we termed selectivity portraits. Taking together, our results suggest that the cortex is the structure that determines whether action selection will be performed and what strategy will be utilized while the role of the BG is to perform this selection. Some frequency ranges promote the exploitation of actions of whom the outcome is known, others promote the exploration of new actions with high uncertainty while the remaining frequencies simply deactivate selection. Based on this behaviour, we propose a metaphor according to which, the basal ganglia can be viewed as the ''gearbox" of the cortex. Coalitions of rhythmic cortical areas are able to switch between a repertoire of available BG modes which, in turn, change the course of information flow back to and within the cortex. In the same context, dopamine can be likened to the ''control pedals" of action selection that either stop or initiate a decision. Finally, the frequency of active cortical areas that project to the BG acts as a gear lever, that instead of controlling the type and direction of thrust that the throttle provides to an automobile, it dictates the extent to which dopamine can trigger a decision, as well as what type of decision this will be. Finally, we identify a selection cycle with a period of around 200 ms, which was used to assess the biological plausibility of the most popular architectures in cognitive science. Using extensions of the BG model, we further propose novel mechanisms that provide explanations for (1) the two distinctive dynamical behaviours of neurons in globus pallidus external, and (2) the generation of resting tremor in Parkinson's disease. Our findings agree well with experimental observations, suggest new insights into the pathophysiology of specific BG disorders, provide new justifications for oscillatory phenomena related to decision making and reaffirm the role of the BG as the selection centre of the brain.
Supervisor: Shanahan, Murray Sponsor: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council ; Google ; EmployAbility
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral