Yale to lead international team studying brain evolution

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Holding a thought in mind is one of the human brain’s most remarkable tricks. Now researchers will take a closer look at how our brains evolved to accomplish this feat, thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to an international team of scientists headed by Yale neuroscientist Amy Arnsten.

The project is one of four that will receive a total of $50 million over the next five years to explore fundamental questions in neuroscience, the NSF announced Aug. 17. Seventy scientists from four countries will receive funding through the Next Generation Networks for Neuroscience, or NeuroNex program.

The Yale-led project focuses on a key question about human cognition: How did humans develop the ability to keep a mental representation in mind without sensory input, especially while involved in different tasks? This ability is called “working memory,” and is thought to arise from neurons in the prefrontal cortex.  The international collaboration of scientists will study the circuit architectures and molecular mechanisms that generate higher cognition and how they emerge over brain evolution.

Arnsten said the project is the brainchild of Julio Martinez-Trujillo of the Robarts Research Institute at Western University in London, Ontario and will include 16 laboratories from the U.S., Canada, and Germany.

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