Champalimaud Foundation Researcher awarded the ERC Advanced Grant
The European Research Council (ERC) awards Champalimaud Research Director Zachary Mainen an Advanced Grant for the sum of 2.5 Million Euros, to study the role of Serotonin in perception and belief.
The newly awarded research grant is the second consecutive ERC advanced grant awarded to Dr. Mainen, representing the first time a researcher working in Portugal receives this award two successive times.
This grant will be dedicated to study how serotonin influences the way we perceive the world and consequently our behaviour.
“Sensory information does not arrive to the brain as into a vacant field”, explains Dr. Mainen, “when information about a sensory input such as an odour arrives to the brain it is added onto an active field of neural activity. The interaction of this on-going activity with the sensory input will affect the way we both perceive and respond to it.”
Through preliminary studies, research led by Dr. Mainen, at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, identified that serotonin has a significant effect on this on-going activity. Specifically, “we observed that serotonin supresses activity from higher brain areas, those thought to store our existing knowledge and beliefs about the world.” These observations led Dr. Mainen to propose this line of experiments where “we will be testing if serotonin acts to suppress prior beliefs when they conflict with new sensory information”.
“With this grant, we will be able to design and perform experiments that will tackle multiple facets of an important general computational question, bringing to bear an array of cutting-edge technologies to address with unprecedented mechanistic detail how serotonin impacts neural coding and perceptual decision-making”. Dr. Mainen concludes, “We're hoping to understand how anti-depressants, which primarily target serotonin system, relieve depression”.