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Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience

Group leader Prof. Cyriel Pennartz

Welcome to Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience at the University of Amsterdam!

The brain consists of billions of neurons which mediate complex cognitive processes such as perception, memory, decision-making and ultimately also consciousness. How can it be that these mental operations are implemented by the electrical activity of networks of communicating neurons? The Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience (CSN) group of SILS translates this overarching question into concrete research investigating the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying perception and cognition at the levels of neurons, networks, multi-area systems and behavior.

The global research aim of our group is to elucidate how neuronal networks distributed across the sensory neocortex, frontal cortex, hippocampal memory system and subcortical regions cooperate in perception and memory processing. In particular, we are interested in questions such as: how are perceptual representations are formed and how are perceptual decisions made? How is information from different sense modalities both integrated and segregated? What are the developmental mechanisms underlying the formation of perceptual representations? How do sensory systems of the cortex interact with (para)hippocampal, subcortical and emotion-related structures in the formation and retrieval of memory traces, for instance during replay? Our work on perception intertwines with further theoretical and empirical work on the neural bases of consciousness, sleep, and anesthesia.

These research goals are pursued using a variety of techniques operating at different scales, ranging from the level of single neurons, within-area, local networks to the higher level of multi-area networks and macroscopic systems regulating behavior. Currently, our repertoire of techniques focuses on: (i) in vivo ensemble recordings using silicon probes and multi-area tetrode arrays, (ii) in vivo two-photon imaging, (iii) in vivo optogenetics and chemogenetics; (iv) in vivo two-photon targeted patch-clamp of neurons, (v) computational modelling, both of neural systems dynamics and of biologically plausible neuronal networks performing cognitive-perceptual tasks, and (vi) advanced analysis of both neurobiological and clinical data. Along all of these research lines, animal and human behaviour plays a key role. The group is specialized in developing novel behavioral paradigms for testing perception, learning and memory in animals, and collaborates with clinical groups to help unravel neural systems dysfunction underlying disorders of consciousness. Other clinically relevant work we do relates to autism-spectrum disorders, mental retardation and combatting consequences of stroke using novel neurotechnologies such as brain-computer interfaces.

In the CSN group we collaborate to address these general questions in the following themes of research, ordered by way of Principal Investigators playing a key role. You can find out more about their research themes by clicking the profile.

Research lines

Dr C.A. (Conrado) Bosman Vittini

Early development of neuronal circuits, multisensory integration and cognition

Dr. J.F. (Jorge) Mejias

Computational neuroscience of perception and memory

Dr. U. (Umberto) Olcese

Neurophysiology of perception: from neurons to phenomenology

Prof. dr. C.M.A. (Cyriel) Pennartz

Neural representations in perception, memory and consciousness, predictive coding, population coding


Our group is responsible for the Master in Biomedical Sciences track Cognitive Neurobiology and Clinical Neurophysiology (CN2), which covers the above mentioned topics as well as themes from Clinical Neurophysiology and Neuroimaging.