Theses Doctoral

Learning and generalization in cerebellum-like structures

Dempsey, Conor

The study of cerebellum-like circuits allows many points of entry. These circuits are often involved in very specific systems not found in all animals (for example electrolocation in weakly electric fish) and thus can be studied with a neuroethological approach in mind. There are many cerebellum-like circuits found across the animal kingdom, and so studies of these systems allow us to make interesting comparative observations. Cerebellum-like circuits are involved in computations that touch many domains of theoretical interest - the formation of internal predictions, adaptive filtering, cancellation of self-generated sensory inputs. This latter is linked both conceptually and historically to philosophical questions about the nature of perception and the distinction between the self and the outside world. The computation thought to be performed in cerebellum-like structures is further related, especially through studies of the cerebellum, to theories of motor control and cognition. The cerebellum itself is known to be involved in much more than motor learning, its traditionally assumed function, with particularly interesting links to schizophrenia and to autism. The particular advantage of studying cerbellum-like structures is that they sit at such a rich confluence of interests while being involved in well-defined computations and being accessible at the synaptic, cellular, and circuit levels. In this thesis we present work on two cerebellum-like structures: the electrosensory lobe (ELL) of mormyrid fish and the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) of mice. Recent work in ELL has shown that a temporal basis of granule cells allows the formation of predictions of the sensory consequences of a simple motor act - the electric organ discharge (EOD). Here we demonstrate that such predictions generalize between electric organ discharge rates - an ability crucial to the ethological relevance of such predictions. We develop a model of how such generalization is made possible at the circuit level. In a second section we show that the DCN is able to adaptively cancel self-generated sounds. In the conclusion we discuss some differences between DCN and ELL and suggest future studies of both structures motivated by a reading of different aspects of the machine learning literature.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Sawtell, Nathaniel B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 7, 2019