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Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

The CNBC is a joint venture of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Our center leverages the strengths of the University of Pittsburgh in basic and clinical neuroscience and those of Carnegie Mellon in cognitive and computational neuroscience to support a coordinated cross-university research and educational program of international stature. In addition to our Ph.D. program in Neural Computation, we sponsor a graduate certificate program in cooperation with a wide variety of affiliated Ph.D. programs.

Within the CNBC, our over 200 world-class faculty and trainees are investigating the cognitive and neural mechanisms that give rise to biological intelligence and behavior. Research topics include affective, cognitive, linguistic, perceptual, motor and social systems in both normal and disordered populations, as well as computational neuroscience. The CNBC also promotes the translation of findings from basic research into applications for medicine, education, robotics and artificial intelligence.

Elucidating the Motor Code

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Scientists at Pitt Neurobiology and Systems Neuroscience Institute just broke the code used by the brain's primary motor cortex to control movements. A long standing debate has existed concerning the output signals from the brain to the spinal cord. Some have argued that the brain encodes force. Others have suggested that the brain encodes movement direction. In a paper published in Science, Darcy Griffin, Donna Hoffman and Peter Strick (University of Pittsburgh Systems Neuroscience Institute and CNBC) investigated the corticomotoneuronal (CM) contribution to movement. CM cells are a subset of primary motor cortex neurons that make direct monosynaptic connections with spinal motor neurons. The authors found that this subset of neurons were "functionally tuned". In other words, individual CM cells encoded a single muscle function. When we move, individual muscles are used for many functions; as agonists to generate force, fixators to prevent unwanted joint movement and asantagonists to brake movement. This exciting finding shows that the brain uses a population of CM cells, which are connected to the same muscle, to control different functions of that muscle. Thus, the primary motor cortex encodes the functional use of a muscle. The paper is available here.

Difficulty Processing Speech May Be an Effect of Dyslexia, Not a Cause

dyslexiaimage_853x480-min.jpg The cognitive skills used to learn how to ride a bike may be the key to a more accurate understanding of developmental dyslexia. And, they may lead to improved interventions.

CNBC scientists investigated how procedural learning — how we acquire skills and habits such as riding a bike — impacts how individuals with dyslexia learn speech sound categories. They found that learning complex auditory categories through procedural learning is impaired in dyslexia.
More information can be found here.
Training by Repetition Actually Prevents Learning for Those With Autism


repetition_853x480-min.jpgIndividuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) sometimes acquire a new behavior or skill only in a specific context, but they have difficulty transferring that learned skill or information to a new context.
CNBC Professors Marlene Behrmann and Nancy Minshew have a new study in Nature Neuroscience that shows how training individuals with ASD to acquire new information by repeating the information actually harms their ability to apply that learned knowledge to other situations. This finding challenges the popular educational approaches designed for ASD individuals that focus on repetition and drills. Read more here.
Friend of the CNBC Award

Friend of the CNBC Award PhotoThe CNBC is pleased to announce Patricia Maurides as the second recipient of the Friend of the Year award ward for 2015-16. The award, presented to Maurides by Nathan Urban (Pitt co-director of the CNBC) and Marlene Behrmann, the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and CNBC faculty member, highlights Maurides’ valued contributions to the CNBC. Her artistic work and teaching blend science and art. She has also co-taught with Behrmann and continues to engage with students to promote scientific literacy through art in courses like “Neurophoto” and “Art and the Brain”. For the CNBC 20th Anniversary celebration, Dr. Maurides curated “Neurons and other memories”, an engaging exhibit showcasing art that engaged with themes from neuroscience and psychology. For more information, please see here.

CNBC and BrainHub Interim Leadership Announcements

Allison BarthThe CNBC is proud that two of its long-standing faculty members are involved in high-profile positions to advance the study of the brain at CMU, the CNBC and in Pittsburgh. Alison Barth (CMU Biology) is serving as interim director of Brain Hub. Brain Hub is a new initiative at CMU that aims to promote research across disciplines for the study of the brain by providing seed grants and facilitating collaboration.

rob2013.jpgRob Kass (CMU Statistics/Machine Learning) will serve as interim CMU CNBC co-director, taking over from Marlene Behrmann (CMU Psychology). More information can be found here.