IAI Colloquia Series at ISR: Jonathan Fritz, "Auditory Signal Processing from Sound to Meaning"

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
4:00 p.m.
1146 A.V. Williams Building
Regina King
301 405 6615

Intelligent Automation, Inc. Colloquia Series
@ The Institute for Systems Research

Auditory Signal-Processing From Sound to Meaning – New Insights from Systems Neuroscience

Jonathan Fritz
Institute for Systems Research and Neural and Cognitive Sciences Program

How do we make sense of sensory inputs? This is a fundamental question in the neurobiology of perception, and also of keen interest to neuromorphic engineers who would like to learn how neural networks solve this problem in order to build better sensing systems. One important clue is the central role of selective attention, by focusing limited resources on behaviorally relevant sensory channels and modulating information flow at multiple stages, to improve perception.

Our approach is to study the effect of attention on information processing at the single neuron level in the primary auditory cortex (A1) of animals trained on multiple auditory tasks that require selective attention to task-specific salient spectral frequency or temporal cues. Our results demonstrate that when animals actively attend to a task, their auditory cortical neurons can rapidly change their spectrotemporal filter characteristics to improve the animal’s performance. Thus, cortical sensory filters are not fixed, but are highly adaptive, and show dynamic, task-specific transformations during auditory behavior. To study the broader neural circuits involved in attention, we have begun research on the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a brain area known to play a key role in attention and decision-making. In contrast to A1, PFC responses are largely independent of the acoustic properties of sound, and encode an abstract, categorical representation of sound meaning. Recent studies in collaboration with the Kanold Lab (ISR/Biology) show that electrical stimulation of PFC can elicit receptive field transformations in A1 neurons very similar to the attentional effects observed during behavior. The talk will emphasize the top-down instructive role of PFC, and the importance of interactions between multiple brain areas during selective attention that lead to matched auditory cortical filters for attended acoustic stimuli, creating a dynamic, evolving neural representation of task-salient sounds and thus optimizing perception on a moment-to-moment basis.

Dr. Fritz received undergraduate degrees in Mathematics (York University, 1973) and in Physiology, Psychology and Philosophy (Oxford University, 1976) and his PhD in Neuroscience (Brown University, 1995). After post-doctoral work in the Laboratory of Neuropsychology (NIMH, 1995-2000), he came to the ISR to work in the Neural Systems Lab with Dr. Shihab Shamma. His current research focuses on the neurobiological basis of auditory perception, attention, learning and memory. He is an Associate Research Scientist at ISR (since 2009) and a Faculty Associate in NACS (Neural and Cognitive Systems Program).

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