Research Programme

Credits : Christelle Baunez

Credits : Christelle Baunez

PACE proposes a unique research programme wich aims at investigating complex human movements and translating this knowledge to the clinical environment, tackling a major societal issue: how to improve rehabilitation medicine.

PACE Research Programme is highly innovative in several aspects:

  • It  approaches both sensory processing and motor control, from the experimental, as well as from the theoretical perspective.
  • It studies human movement (intercepting, reaching or grasping) in more complex, naturalistic conditions.
  • It establishes a strong collaborative network between basic neuroscience research and rehabilitation programs.
  • It puts the basis for a along term cooperation between a network of private, academic and clinical partners.
  • It encompasses a wide range of technical expertise, exposing PACE PhD fellows to a wide range of methods and technics.

The 15 PhD students recruited by PACE will carry out their individual research projects over three years, hosted by a member of the network and in close interaction with at least another PACE’s partner through secondments.

To further strengthen intersectoral and interdisciplinary collaborations, PACE network members and fellows will design, evaluate the feasibility, and eventually move towarss the implementation of:

  • small real clinical test/rehabilitation prototype, opening long-term collaborative perspectives for PACE partners and fellows.
  • complete prototype study, aiming at transferring basic science knowledge to applied and/or clinical research, and potentially to the commercial sector.

Credits : Jacob Nelson



 PACE Research Projects

1. Predicting sensory events and inference for visuomotor control

The goal of the project is to explore the dynamics in visual motion integration and prediction. The fellow will conduct psychophysics, oculomotor recordings and modelling work on visuo-oculomotor control in healthy subjects in order to understand 1) how predictive information is stored and represented at multiple levels and time scales and 2) how the sensory and predictive information are integrated online.

Host institution: Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone, Team InViBe, CNRS & Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France
Supervisors: Dr Guillaume Masson and Dr Anna Montagnini
PhD student: Kiana Mansour Pour

2. Predicting self-generated events: motor prediction in arm and eye movements, and their coordination

The ability to predict sensory consequences of voluntary movements plays a central role in the generation of skilled movements such as object manipulation and eye movements. The leading hypothesis is that the brain is endowed of mechanisms that can simulate the dynamics of our body and of the object in conjunction with an efference copy of the on-going motor commands sent to our limbs. A first objective will be to investigate whether common or separate predictors are involved in the control of grip force and eye motion when manipulating objects. To address this issue we plan to monitor the adaptation of grip force and eye tracking performance when learning to manipulate object with complex dynamics. A second objective will be to identify the contribution of the primary motor cortex (M1) in the coordination of eye and hand movements through Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation over M1.

Host institution: Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone, Team CoMCo, CNRS & Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France
Supervisor: Dr Fréderic Danion
PhD student: James Mathew 

3. Integration of multiple senses for the timing of an action

An action driven by multiple senses is performed on average faster than when senses are taken individually, but the timing is more variable across trials. Current studies suffer from two pitfalls. Frist, signals from each sensory modality are arbitrary, whereas in natural environments, they are informative about a common dimension (e.g. location) and related to a single object. Second, accuracy in timing studies is overlooked because stimuli are supra-thresholds and performance close to perfect. ESR3 will fill these two important gaps using both manual (pointing) and saccadic eye movements.

Host institution: Laboratoire des Systèmes Perceptifs, CNRS & Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France
Supervisor: Dr Pascal Mamassian
PhD student: Ljubica Jovanovic

4. Combining information from various modalities for rhythmic tapping: role of the task

Tapping a rhythm with the finger on a table involves information from several senses: audition but also visual and kinaesthetic feedback about the finger’s movement, and tactile feedback about the moment it hits the table. One open question is whether auditory (visual) feedback is weighted more heavily if the task is to synchronize one’s actions to an auditory (visual) signal. Alternatively, all cues could always be combined ‘optimally’ to achieve the highest overall precision. ESR4 will study this and similar questions related to timing.

Host institution: Department of Human Movement Sciences, Free University, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Supervisors: Dr Eli Brenner and Dr Jeroen Smeets
PhD student: Jacob Nelson

5. Adapting eye movements: Using information about saccadic latency

Psychophysics, oculomotor recordings and choice modelling in dynamic foraging tasks in healthy subjects to probe 1) the extent of control of reinforcement contingencies on saccade latencies 2) the extent of knowledge the saccadic system has about its own latencies and 3) how organisms accumulate information about reward contingencies.

Host institution: Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone, Marseille, France
Supervisor: Prof Laurent Madelain
PhD student: Valentina Vencato

6. Adapting movement to sensory delayed/conflicting feedback in interceptive timing

An efficient sensorimotor control implies minimizing end-point cost functions, like the final spatiotemporal error in interception. Immersive systems imply conflicting context as to the timing of final feedback and it is essential to predict how human performance relies on this information. Actual final multisensory feedback (visual, auditory, haptic) and their predictions are crucial but it remains unclear how adaptation evolves when robust end- point time markers from other sensory modalities (haptic or auditory) conflict in precision and time with visual signals.

Host institution: Department of Basic Psychology, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Supervisor: Dr Joan Lopez-Moliner
PhD student: Elisabeth Knelange

7. Building a unified active-inference framework for optimal naturalistic movements

The brain can be understood as a hierarchical probabilistic model of its environment that infers the causes of its sensory data by minimising prediction errors, or alternatively, maximising the Bayesian evidence for its model of the world by actively sampling sensory information. This framework can explain visual search behaviour (for a theoretical treatment of this idea see “Perceptions as hypotheses, saccades as experiments” – doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00151). This project will involve devising a paradigm to test these ideas in normal subjects, that can then be applied to explain the behaviour of psychiatric populations whose visual search behaviour is abnormal (e.g. those with diagnoses of schizophrenia or autism).

Host institution: Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College of London, London, UK
Supervisors: Pr Karl Friston and Dr Rick Adams
PhD student: Muammer Berk Mirza

8. The control and representation of articulated objects: insights from robots

Because of their structural rigidity, most robots strain to manipulate kinematically-constrained objects without causing large interaction forces. While progresses in robotics, ranging from elastic actuators to new control schemes, are useful in the manipulation of such objects, the robotic ability to develop models of the objects they manipulate is limited. The project aims at developing a computational framework that might endow robots with such capacity and account for the unique capacity of humans to do so. The PhD candidate will need to be acquainted with current computational account of motor and sensory processes, such as optimal control theory, Recurrent Neural Networks, Active Inference framework. (ii) investigate how these paradigms might account for our capacity to identify and use kinematically constrained objects, (iii) leverage robot iCub’s force and impedance control abilities to endow iCub with the capacity to interact physically with articulated objects, (iv) use iCub to test an implementation of the model.

Host institution: Robotics, Brain & Cognition, Italian Institute of Technology, Genova, Italy
Supervisors: Prof Gabriel Baud-Bovy and Prof Giulio Sandini
PhD student: Yeshasvi Venkata Sai Tirupachuri

9. Control and representation of articulated objects: human behaviour in sighted and blind adults and children

Many actions, from opening a door to using scissors, involve kinematically constrained objects. It has long been recognized in robotics that kinematic constraints are particularly challenging as they require one to control the interaction at the kinematic and dynamical levels simultaneously. Despite its ubiquity in everyday action, only a few studies have investigated how humans manipulate kinematically constrained objects. The general objective of this PhD project is to study sensory and motor processes involved in the control of these objects. This project will in particular focus on how one develops a kinematic model of object from the visual observation of the movements of its parts and from the experience derived during its manipulation. Since good vision is necessary for a normal development of spatial cognition, we will study how congenital blindness impair the development of the representation and manipulation of articulated objects. During the PhD, the candidate will (i) probe psychophysically discrimination, identification or recognition of object geometry from visual and proprioceptive cues (ii) identify motor control strategies when manipulating kinematically constrained objects (iii) map how the capacity to manipulate such objects and perceived their kinematic properties develop from childhood to adulthood in sighted individuals and (v) tests blind children to assess how congenital blindness affect the manipulation and perception of these objects.

Host institution: Robotics, Brain & Cognition, Italian Institute of Technology, Genova, Italy
Supervisors: Dr Monica Gori and Prof Gabriel Baud-Bovy
PhD student: Qinqi Xu

10. Testing sensorimotor integration in aging

An important age-related dysfunction is the decrease in the ability to perform daily tasks. Age-related dysfunction is generally explained by both a diminished function in multiple physiological domains (including muscle strength, neuromuscular coordination, balance and cardiovascular function), reduced physical reserves and a decline in the integration of the sensorimotor system. The aim of the project will be to develop an instrument to diagnose the underlying causes of beginning age-related dysfunction in order to advise on personalized rehabilitation or training.

Host institution: Perceptual and Cognitive Systems/Life Style, TNO, Soesterberg/Leiden, The Netherlands
Supervisors: Dr Anne-Marie Brower and Dr Petra Siemonsma
PhD student: Alix De Dieuleveult

11. Cerebellum and aging: predicting behavioural deficits from patterns of neural degeneration in aging subjects

Our recent research has uncovered a specific relationship between patterns of cerebellar loss and deficits in motor control. Using MRI anatomy and voxel-based morphometry, we relate behavioural deficits with loss of grey matter on a voxel-by-voxel basis. With a new template of the human cerebellum and using specific registration techniques for individual cerebella, we can localize sites associated with deficit to an accuracy of up to 1 mm3.

Host institution: Department of Biomedical Engineering, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israël
Supervisor: Prof Opher Donchin
PhD student: Abhijith Yenikekaluva

12. Neural prosthetic advancement: identification of circuitry and decode optimization

Brain computer interfaces support patients suffering from paralysis by extracting signals from precise groups of neurons and translating them using the optimal decoder. To date, the targeted network is defined from the intact brain. Since the organization of the motor pathways changes drastically in brain disease/injury, this choice raises questions. First, are real grasping actions performed by intact subjects or actions imagined by patients guiding the prosthetic devices informed by the same neural population(s)? Second, are the brain areas and their signals extracted similar in intact participants and those patients with brain injury?

Host institution: Department of Psychology, University of Durham, Durham, UK
Supervisors: Dr Cristiana Cavina-Pratesi, Dr Jason Connolly, Prof. Charles Heywood
PhD student: Alessia Cacace

13. Movement error-processing and motor adaptation in healthy subjects and patients with Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients present anomalies in the oscillatory activity in the BG-cortex loops; namely the activity in the beta band (~20Hz) presents an excessive synchronization that might contribute to some behavioral symptoms. Our goal is to better understand the relationship between the behavioral deficits and the electrophysiological anomalies observed in PD patients in motor adaptation tasks. First, we plan to examine PD patients during the early and more advanced stages of the pathology, on medication or not (ON or OFF L-Dopa); a secondary goal will be to interpret these observations in light of neuroimaging data (IRM). Second, we plan to record subthalamic nucleus LFP and EEG to explore the oscillatory and synchronized activities in the BG-cortex loops.

Host institution: Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone, Team CoMCo, CNRS & Aix-Marseille Universté, Marseille, France
Supervisor: Dr Nicole Malfait
PhD student: Amirhossein Jahani

14. Targeting advanced rehabilitation techniques for sensorimotor deficits

Spinal cord, brainstem and cerebellum contribute in synergy to dynamic postural adjustments in static conditions and during locomotion. Postural control deficits are common consequence to different damages to the brain and the peripheral nervous system. Rehabilitating postural control is achieved following a motor learning protocol, during which the motor function is learnt, trained and consolidated. It should also take into account the most affected control level in a given pathology.

Host institution: Center for Advanced Technologies in Rehabilitation, Sheba Med Center, Tel Hashomer, Israel
Supervisor: Prof Meir Plotnik
PhD student: Desiderio Cano-Porras

15. Real-time visual feedback on biomechanical parameters to improve gait in children with cerebral palsy

For many patient populations who experience limited mobility, Clinical Gait Analysis (CGA) is used to inform the clinical decision making process for optimal treatment. Recently, parameters from CGA, that employ a biomechanical model of the musculoskeletal system, can be calculated in real-time from walking on an instrumented belt, which can be used to drive real-time feedback applications for training purposes. By feeding specific parameters back to the patient, e.g. using a Virtual Reality (VR) system, the patient can respond, by altering its gait pattern and eventually aiming to restore gait performance. However, to date is unclear how such feedback should be presented to the patient in order for them to effectively adjust their gait pattern.

Host institution: Motek Medical, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Supervisor: Dr Frans Steenbrink
PhD student: Adam Booth

16. Characterizing the explicit and implicit components of motor adaptation

This project will explore the underlying characteristics of different previously identified components of motor adaptation. Multiple methods have been used in order to dissociate explicit from implicit learning, with the most recent approaches employing trial-by-trial reporting and process dissociation after adaptation in order to measure subjects’ awareness of the perturbation. While these measures are closely related, there seems to be a difference in the level of consciousness. How strategy learning and awareness can be dissociated and what the impact on the implicit aspect is, and how these processes are localized in the brain are the main questions in this study.

Host institution: Department of Biomedical Engineering, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israël
Supervisor: Prof Opher Donchin
PhD student: Jana Maresch