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Human Brain Project

Photo: Human Brain Project

In 2016, Prof. Dr. Cyriel Pennartz, head of the research group Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience, has been awarded a coordinating role in the Human Brain Project, an EU-funded Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship Initiative designed to help advance neuroscience, medicine and computing. With funding amounting to a total of about EUR 1 billion, the 10-year project is one of the biggest research projects in the history of science. Leading scientists from different disciplines and more than 100 universities and research centers across Europe are collaborating on this unprecedented endeavour. They gather experimental data, which inform theoretical models and are used to create simulations of the brain and its cognitive processes.

The human brain project consists of twelve subprojects. Prof. Dr. Cyriel Pennartz is coordinating subproject 3 (SP3) on Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience in which he and 15 other research groups within the EU try to uncover the neural mechanisms underlying cognitive processes, such as sleep, memory and consciousness.
Prof. Dr. Cyriel Pennartz got awarded this role via an open call: In October 2015, HBP challenged the research community to form this new SP on Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience. 57 research groups all over Europe competed and four winning proposals were selected. Amongst them was “Episense” led by Cyriel Pennartz. Prof. Pennartz was also elected as Leader of SP3, making him responsible for the coordination of 15 research groups in seven different European countries.



“Episense” investigates brain mechanisms of the senses and episodic memory. Episodic memory is the memory of our personal, conscious experiences set within space and time. It defines who we are. The brain’s ability to recall objects and experiences from multisensory information, such as vision, audition or touch sensation is a key to understanding human memory. Together with four other partners, our lab at the UvA will conduct a coordinated series of experiments to identify the neuronal mechanisms behind the vivid recall of memories in different sensory modalities, such as vision, audition and touch, and validate them by computational models and robotic systems.

Multisensory integration in episodic memory

The goal of the project at the Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience lab is to uncover neural mechanisms underlying multisensory integration during memory formation and retrieval at the scale of cells, groups of cells within the same area, and yet larger ensembles of cells distributed across connected areas.

First, multisensory memory encoding and retrieval will be studied using cell-resolution, multi-area recordings simultaneously from visual and somatosensory cortices, perirhinal hippocampus (CA1).

Second, optogenetic manipulation of memory encoding and retrieval will be carried out in selected brain areas and cell groups.

Collaborators in this research line are Sven van der Burg, Julien Fiorilli, Dr Shirin Dora, Pietro Marchesi, Dr Umberto Olcese, Katharina Müller.

Anatomical proximity between neurons increases the probability of forming a recurring cluster, regardless of orientation tuning. From: Montijn JS, Olcese U, Pennartz CMA (2016) Visual stimulus detection correlates with the consistency of temporal sequences within stereotyped events of V1 neuronal population activity. J. Neurosci. 36: 8624-8640.

Partnering project: CANON - Investigating the canonical organization of neocortical circuits for sensory integration


Photo: CANON

Dr Conrado Bosman and Dr Umberto Olcese are coordinating the partnering project “CANON” within the Human Brain Project. The main goal of this research project is to shed light on the multiscale organization of cortical computation by integrating neuronal and population activities with inter areal interactions. Most studies focus on a single aspect of cortical organization, either at the microscopic or macroscopic level, yet an adequate understanding of the integration mechanisms of the brain at a circuit level is still missing.

The objective of the project is threefold, as CANON aims to understand: i) whether the canonical architecture can be actually observed in a cortical circuit subserving multisensory integration, ii) the roles of different neuronal subpopulations in modulating oscillatory activity related to feedforward and feedback processing and iii) whether such architecture is preserved across different mammals.


Lansink, C. S., Meijer, G. T., Lankelma, J. V., Vinck, M. A., Jackson, J. C., & Pennartz, C. M. (2016). Reward Expectancy Strengthens CA1 Theta and Beta Band Synchronization and Hippocampal-Ventral Striatal Coupling. Journal of Neuroscience36(41), 10598-10610.

Montijn JS, Meijer GT, Lansink CS, Pennartz CMA (2016) Population-level neural codes are robust to single-neuron variability from a multidimensional coding perspective. Cell Reports 16: 1-13.

Montijn JS, Olcese U, Pennartz CMA (2016) Visual stimulus detection correlates with the consistency of temporal sequences within stereotyped events of V1 neuronal population activity. J. Neurosci. 36: 8624-8640.

Olcese U, Bos JJ, Vinck M, Lankelma JV, Van Mourik-Donga LB, Schlumm F, Pennartz CMA (2016) Spike-based functional connectivity in cerebral cortex and hippocampus: loss of global connectivity is coupled to preservation of local connectivity during non-REM sleep. J. Neurosci. 36: 7676-7692.