Humans and animals constantly receive, through their sensory organs, a large amount of information from their environment that allows them to develop appropriate behaviours. In all sensory modalities (vision, hearing, olfaction, etc.) the sensory organ is a highly specialized structure that carries out a precise temporal, spatial and/or molecular analysis. These transduction mechanisms are essential for allowing the central sensory structures to generate a stable perception of the environment.
Several teams at NeuroPSI focus on sensory organ development, maintenance and evolution. In particular, they ask: what are the cellular and molecular mechanisms governing the development of the eye and the olfactory system, how have these mechanisms evolved in different species, and how are photoreceptor functional identities maintained in adult retina?
Other NeuroPSI teams aim to identify the mechanisms involved in perception and seek to determine the types of neural coding and the operations carried out by sensory organs and the sensory structures in the brain. In this general framework, they raise fundamental questions, among which are: How do visual, auditory or somatosensory cortical neurons analyze natural scenes? What are the visual, auditory or olfactory capacities of species living in very different environments and in various social structures? At the individual level, what is the impact of early environmental changes on perception and on sensorimotor integration? How do auditory brain structures discriminate between acoustic communication signals and how do they categorize them to allow communication between individuals that is essential for the survival of the species? How is temporal perception developed at the cellular or cell population level, in the order of a few seconds or on the scale of circadian rhythms?
Answering these questions will not only deepen our fundamental knowledge of how we sense and how we process what we sense, but will also allow finding innovative solutions to overcome developmental or age-related deficiencies in sensory organs, such as loss of sight or hearing. Understanding the interactions between different sensory modalities, as well as between senses and movement control, will be the basis for translational research aiming at compensating behavioural deficits in situations of sensory or motor handicap.