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Turning Complex Procedures Into Learning Opportunities

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Ueli Rutishauser, PhD
Director, Center for Neural Science and Medicine
Board of Governors Chair in Neurosciences
Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology and Biomedical Sciences


Adam Mamelak, MD
Director, Functional
Neurosurgery Program
Professor of Neurosurgery

When patients undergo procedures such as deep-brain stimulation for Parkinson’s or implantation of temporary electrodes for epilepsy diagnostics, scientists from an internationally recognized leading research group in human cognitive neurophysiology are at the bedside—investigating the mechanisms of learning, memory and decision-making at the single-neuron and network level—and driving the science forward.

The combination of in vivo, single-neuron electrophysiology, eye tracking and electrical stimulation with behavioral, computational and theoretical approaches has led to significant insights into how the human brain forms and stores memories and how the brain self-monitors behavior for mistakes.

"Performing research in conjunction with this type of brain surgery requires major functional neurosurgery and epilepsy programs. These are precious and rare opportunities we are obligated to learn from. Patients often tell us that the ability to participate in this research is the highlight of their stay."

— Ueli Rutishauser, PhD


Foundations of the Future

Progress in the understanding of human brain function—gained by these complex, clinically indicated procedures—will benefit patients far beyond the current study. The Rutishauser Laboratory’s recent findings on the role of cognitive boundaries in memory formation, published in Nature Neuroscience, open new avenues of study and carry promise for additional therapeutic targets in epilepsy and a host of neurodegenerative conditions. The results on performance monitoring, published in Science, reveal important new aspects of how the frontal lobes support executive functions. This study also indicates potential new treatment targets to address the overutilization or underutilization of error monitoring typical in psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.


How do signals from a group of neurons in the frontal lobe simultaneously give humans the flexibility to learn new tasks—and the focus to develop highly specific skills? Read more about this study, published in Science.

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