In the bewildering complexity of the nervous system, researchers in sensory neuroscience tend to conceptually separate individual modalities for isolated analysis. In fact, sensory neuroscientists frequently identify themselves as investigators of only, for example, vision or olfaction. While this reductionist approach is powerful in many aspects, it entails a risk of oversimplification. Though more practical, reductionist analysis of sensory neurobiology contrasts sharply with the nervous system’s everyday operation, which generally integrates multiple crossmodal cues. Therefore, with advances in our modality-specific understanding and the emergence of novel experimental and analytical tools, it is time to address the interplay between different sensory modalities. We believe that this approach (MultiSenses) will be key to a more holistic understanding of sensory-guided behaviors.
Multisensory processing has traditionally been studied on a single cell level, revealing several basic principles of crossmodal integration. Neural circuits, however, exhibit an additional layer of integration that transcends the complexity of any given cell, with dynamic characteristics whose analysis requires sophisticated computation. Ultimately, knowledge derived from cell, network and systems analysis needs to be combined to gain a realistic understanding of sensory-guided behaviors, adding yet another layer of complexity. To meet this multi-scale challenge and gain insights into the principles of crossmodal coding, this RTG will address multisensory integration from various experimental and analytical angles and across scales. We expect this strategy (MultiScales) to be instrumental in generating a wealth of novel information on multisensory biology.
The unique twofold MultiSenses–MultiScales approach (Fig. 1) is particularly suited for a doctoral training program.
First, this strategy requires concerted collaborative actions and expertise from several groups. The RTG provides an ideal platform for such efforts.
Second, the approach entails that a number of individual projects are intertwined and complement each other. Together, these projects generate volumes of information, which synergistically add to a conceptual framework of crossmodal coding.
Third, the breadth and depth inherent to the MultiSenses–MultiScales theme will expose RTG trainees to a wide range of (sub)fields, concepts, and approaches in modern neuroscience. Consequently, doctoral researchers will be prepared to embrace interdisciplinary approaches to scientific inquiry and, ultimately, to flourish as independent investigators.
Fourth, the technical challenges implicit in the MultiSenses–MultiScales strategy can only be met by synergy. Here, teamwork and complementary expertise provide true added value to the individual projects.
Fig. 1: The RTG core concept – analysis of multimodal integration across senses and scales.
Within a scale versus modality matrix, each RTG faculty member covers distinct areas of expertise (colored dots). Key questions will be addressed at multiple levels of brain function (schematically exemplified by processing stages along the olfactory pathway; vertical axis). This ‘MultiScale’ theme will provide RTG researchers with a conceptual framework and direct causal explanations for how the brain’s sensory machinery drives high-level functions such as behavior and cognition. Importantly, each research project will span at least two levels both horizontally and vertically. Core PIs: AL (Lampert), BK (Kampa), DM (Merhof), JF (Fels), JS (Schulz), MD (Diesmann), MR (Rothermel), MS (Spehr), PC (Carloni), SG (Grün), TM (Marquardt) Associated local experts: FH (Haiss), FM (Müller), HW (Wagner), PW (Walter), UH (Habel).