People / Faculty
Earl K. Miller, Ph.D.
Picower Professor of Neuroscience
Associate Director, The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
Investigator, RIKEN-MIT Neuroscience Research Center
Neural Basis of Memory and Cognition
Research interests in the Miller laboratory center around the neural mechanisms of attention, learning, and memory needed for voluntary, goal-directed behavior. Much effort is directed at the prefrontal cortex, a cortical region at the anterior end of the brain that is greatly enlarged in primates, especially humans. The prefrontal cortex has long been known to play a central role in cognition. Its damage or dysfunction disrupts the ability to ignore distractions, hold important information "in mind", plan behavior, and control impulses. The lab explores prefrontal function by employing a variety of techniques including multiple-electrode neurophysiology, psychophysics, pharmacological manipulations, and computational techniques.
Recent work in the lab has shown that neurons in the prefrontal cortex have complex properties that are ideal for a role in cognitive control. Their activity is highly dependent on, and shaped by, task demands. They are selectively activated by relevant sensory inputs, involved in recalling stored memories, and they integrate the diverse information needed for a common behavioral goal. Perhaps most importantly, they transmit acquired knowledge. Their activity reflects learned associations between diverse stimuli, actions, and their consequences. They can even convey abstract behavioral information such as "rules." This representation of the formal demands of tasks within the prefrontal cortex may provide the necessary foundation for the complex forms of behavior observed in primates, in whom this structure is most elaborate.
Siegel M, Warden MR, Miller EK. Phase-dependent neuronal coding of objects in
short-term memory. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Dec 15;106(50):21341-6. Epub 2009 Nov 19.
Buschman TJ, Miller EK. Serial, covert shifts of attention during visual
search are reflected by the frontal eye fields and correlated with population
oscillations. Neuron. 2009 Aug 13;63(3):386-96.
Histed MH, Pasupathy A, Miller EK. Learning substrates in the primate
prefrontal cortex and striatum: sustained activity related to successful actions.
Neuron. 2009 Jul 30;63(2):244-53.
Miller EK, Wilson MA. All my circuits: using multiple electrodes to understand
functioning neural networks. Neuron. 2008 Nov 6;60(3):483-8. Review.