Dr. Sébastien Tremblay, Montreal Neurological Institute
Tremblay, S., Testard, C., DiTullio, R.W., Inchauspé, J., Petrides, M. Neural cognitive signals during spontaneous movements in the macaque. Nature Neuroscience (2022).
Moving while thinking: a single neuron investigation
In real-world settings, humans and other primates think and move simultaneously (e.g. answering a text while walking to work). However, for practical reasons, neuroscientists study the neural basis of the primate mind in laboratory contexts where movements are strictly controlled (e.g. subjects cannot walk while in an MRI scanner). It is therefore unknown how neural activity guiding high-level cognition is unfolding in contexts where natural movements co-exist with thoughts. Dr. Sébastien Tremblay, at the time post-doctoral researcher at the Montreal Neurological Institute, developed novel approaches to record from the activity of hundreds of single neurons in moving macaques performing cognitive tasks. Crucially, Tremblay et al. video recorded movements made by the subjects to understand how neural activity is modulated by the cognitive task and by those spontaneous movements. Results showed that many spontaneous movements performed by the subjects were highly correlated with the task, despite being unnecessary for task performance (e.g. tilting your head while choosing between Cheerios or Corn Flakes). This indicates that neural correlates of cognition typically captured in laboratory experiments may actually only be artefacts of unmeasured, spontaneous movements performed by the subjects. These conclusions commend the application of a new standard in cognitive neuroscience whereby full body movements need to be tracked and accounted for when interpreting neural data.
Financial support was received from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Fellowship Award (S.T.) and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant (M.P.).
About Dr. Sébastien Tremblay
Dr. Sébastien Tremblay performed this work while a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Petrides at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Dr. Tremblay is currently a Senior Research Investigator in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States.