This press release is available in German.
Neuroscientist and IST Austria professor Peter Jonas is one of the three Austrian collaborators in the Human Brain Project which was presented to the public this morning in Brussels. HBP as one of the two flagship projects of the Future and Emerging Technologies Initiative of the European Commission with a total estimated budget of €1 billion for 10 years combines the efforts of approximately 200 research groups in order to reconstruct the human brain by building a computer-based model.
Jonas summarized the relevance of his group's contribution to the HBP as follows: "The HBP heavily relies on quantitative functional data, which is exactly what we can supply."
The President of the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), Thomas Henzinger, congratulated Jonas on this success: "Peter moved to IST Austria in 2010, initiating neuroscience research at the Institute. This award proves that our growing activities in neuroscience have already achieved recognition in Europe and beyond. We look forward to many new and groundbreaking results from Peter's group."
Two components of Peter Jonas' research have particular bearings on the HBP. Firstly, many of the parameters required for the brain model developed by the HBP are yet unknown. Jonas works on cellular and subcellular parameters, such as the properties of entry and exit structures in the neuron, the dendrites and the axon, respectively, and the properties of communication between neurons at the synapse. A quantitative understanding of these parameters is indispensible for accurate modeling of the brain. Here, Peter Jonas' research makes a unique contribution at the cellular, subcellular, and microcircuit scale which directly impacts on the HBP. The subcellular recording technique used to measure the relevant quantities (sometimes called second generation patch-clamp technique) has been developed and refined by the Jonas group and is used only by a very small number of research groups world-wide.
Secondly, Peter Jonas seeks to understand how higher brain functions are produced in neuronal microcircuits. He uses the prototypical learning circuit, the hippocampus, to approach this question on several levels. One level of research is to assemble microcircuits and hippocampal networks. Being similar to the objective of the HBP, this approach will effectively use the technological platform of the Human Brain Project.
Jonas pointed out that in a wider context, "the interaction between experiment and modeling is very important. Ideally, the experimentalists provide quantitative information about key parameters, while the theoreticians identify gaps in the knowledge of relevant factors and suggest new experiments. It is a central objective of the HBP to combine these two elements, as we have successfully demonstrated at IST Austria."