The Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin (BCCN-Berlin) is a thematically focused research center and will address one of the most challenging questions in computational and cognitive neuroscience:
How is it possible that we can process sensory stimuli with millisecond precision and initiate appropriately timed motor behavior if intermediate processing elements – on the level of single synapses, single neurons, small networks and even large neural systems – vary significantly in their response to the same repeated stimulus?
This apparent discrepancy between the reliable performance of the computing brain and the large trial-to-trial variability of neural processes is of direct clinical and biotechnological interest: Which combinations or spatial averages of brain signals need to be extracted if we want to infer the occurrence of a specific cognitive process, discriminate between a healthy and a diseased state, or optimize human learning through EEG feedback – all on a single-trial basis and in real time?
To address this and related questions, the research projects at BCCN-Berlin will evolve around the relation between precisely timed computations and neural variability. In particular, we would like to know whether neural variability is an inevitable consequence of the underlying biophysics and thus simply "noise", or whether such an interpretation reflects our still limited knowledge about the fundamental principles of brain-like computation. Special emphasis will be given to the role of top-down processes and to organizational principles that endow neural systems with balanced dynamics on all spatial and temporal scales.
Berlin provides a stimulating environment for these fundamental research topics. This has allowed us to initiate an extended network of interdisciplinary research collaborations within the last few years using the regional expertise in data analysis, modeling and theory. To ensure a long-lasting impact, we have also developed a flourishing teaching program. Combining the expertise of experimental, clinical and theoretical groups, the center will aim to make its mark in the rapidly-developing field of computational neuroscience and contribute with biomedical and information-technological applications to the well-being of society at large.