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CF Investigator, Rui Costa, receives ERC Grant to study the process of brain chunking

Rui Costa, a Principal Investigator in the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme, has received a Consolidation Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) worth 2 million euros over the next 5 years, to study the neural bases of the chunking process.

  1. 14.1.2014

    How are we able to take seemingly unrelated small ideas and movements and create complex actions and concepts? The brain handles complex actions and memories, organising them into small modules or sequences, in a process known as chunking.

    Imagine you are asked to memorise a multi-digit telephone number, such as 423932752183. If you use the technique of organising the elements (digits) into small groups, like 423 9932 752 183, then your brain has used chunking.

    Chunking is nothing more than the mechanism which the brain uses to organise individual elements into modules or chunks, making your life easier (in the previous example, allowing you to remember the phone number). This works for memories but also for complex actions such as playing a scale on the piano.

    “Chunking is a mechanism which allows us to organise memories and actions in an efficient way. We know that the neural circuitry of the basal ganglia is important for this process, but we still do not know much about how the individual elements of these neuronal circuits are interconnected”, explains Rui Costa. For Dr. Costa, “it is important to understand which, on a neuronal level, are the base units of this process. With this project, financed by the ERC, we are going to dissect with an unprecedented spatial and temporal precision, the role of the sub-circuits of the basal ganglia which support this process. 

    The €2 million allocated by the ERC will be invested in equipment, technology and in a team of around 20 people which will include postdocs, PhD students and laboratory technicians who will contribute to this work.

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