Today, a new article titled Resonant Cholinergic Dynamics in Cognitive and Motor Decision-Making: Attention, Category Learning, and Choice in Neocortex, Superior Colliculus, and Optic Tectum was published on Frontiers in Neuroscience (20 January 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2015.00501). The article, directly derived from my PhD research on laminar mechanisms of memory and perception in the cerebral cortex, was written in collaboration with Jesse Palma. The article elaborates on links between attention, learning, and cholinergic modulation during decision making within several brain systems, both cognitive and motor . We further discuss the homologs between the mammalian superior colliculus and the avian optic tectum lead to predictions about how multimodal map learning may occur in the mammalian and avian brain and how such learning may be modulated by acetycholine. Link to the article can be found here. Absract below.
Abstract: Freely behaving organisms need to rapidly calibrate their perceptual, cognitive, and motor decisions based on continuously changing environmental conditions. These plastic changes include sharpening or broadening of cognitive and motor attention and learning to match the behavioral demands that are imposed by changing environmental statistics. This article proposes that a shared circuit design for such flexible decision-making is used in specific cognitive and motor circuits, and that both types of circuits use acetylcholine to modulate choice selectivity. Such task-sensitive control is proposed to control thalamocortical choice of the critical features that are cognitively attended and that are incorporated through learning into prototypes of visual recognition categories. A cholinergically-modulated process of vigilance control determines if a recognition category and its attended features are abstract (low vigilance) or concrete (high vigilance). Homologous neural mechanisms of cholinergic modulation are proposed to focus attention and learn a multimodal map within the deeper layers of superior colliculus. This map enables visual, auditory, and planned movement commands to compete for attention, leading to selection of a winning position that controls where the next saccadic eye movement will go. Such map learning may be viewed as a kind of attentive motor category learning. The article hereby explicates a link between attention, learning, and cholinergic modulation during decision making within both cognitive and motor systems. Homologs between the mammalian superior colliculus and the avian optic tectum lead to predictions about how multimodal map learning may occur in the mammalian and avian brain and how such learning may be modulated by acetycholine.