Seminar: How does the brain generate movement?

19th October, 14:00-15:00

Speaker: Dr Juan Gallego

Title: How does the brain generate movement? a neural population view


Abstract: Animal behaviour arises from the coordinated activity of neural populations spanning the entire brain. Neural population activity recorded from an increasing number of brain regions, species, and behaviours exhibits low-dimensional topological structure that defines a “neural manifold”. Remarkably, recent studies focusing on neural manifolds and the activity within them –the “latent dynamics”– have shed light into questions about cognition, motor control, and learning that remained elusive when using other approaches.

In this seminar, I will discuss some of our ongoing efforts to understand how the brain generates behaviour through the light of neural manifolds. This work combines neural and behavioural recordings from monkeys, mice, and humans, and computational models. First, I will show that, even if each animal has a brain that is unique, individuals from the same species share preserved latent dynamics when performing the same behaviour. This suggests that evolution by natural selection may specify circuits that can generate the appropriate latent dynamics to support species-specific behaviours. Then, I will show that the properties of neural manifolds primarily depend on the brain region under investigation and the ongoing behaviour, with the complexity of manifolds often increasing with that of the behaviour. For example, giving animals noisy information about their motor goals helps uncover a functional gradient across frontal cortex that is strongly conserved across a variety of tasks.

Thus, adopting a neural population view provides insights into how interacting brain regions drive behaviour, and may enable comparative studies across individuals from the same or even different species.


Bio: Dr Juan Gallego is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, which he joined in January 2020. Prior to that, he held Postdoctoral Fellowships at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and Northwestern University. He was awarded a PhD from CSIC and University Carlos III in 2013.

His research focuses on understanding how animals learn and control their movements through a combination of behavioural experiments, large-scale neural recordings, data analysis techniques, and computational models. He is also interested in applying this knowledge to advance brain-computer interfaces to restore function to people with movement disorders. During his career, he has published over twenty-five journal articles on these topics. His research has been funded by the EU Commission, the UKRI, and the ERC.