Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit


Ben Seymour


Wednesday 9th November 2016

Time: 4.00pm


Ground Floor Seminar Room

25 Howland Street, London, W1T 4JG


Systems and computational neuroscience of human pain


1. Center for Information and Neural Networks, National Institute of Information and Communications Technology and Osaka University, Japan
2. Computational and Biological learning Lab, Cambridge University, UK.

Chronic pain is the greatest cause of disability worldwide, with a socioeconomic cost that dwarfs other neuropsychiatric disease. But it remains poorly understood, due to the lack of adequate understanding of the underlying neurobiological mechanisms. Here, I will contrast two approaches to understand what happens in the brain in chronic pain. The first: a bottom-up approach, aims to reverse engineer pain as a physiological decision system centered on protective and recuperative functions. I'll show how we can build a complete working reinforcement learning model of the pain system, incorporating innate/Pavlovian, model-free and model-based pain avoidance and escape - in simulation, and in autonomous robots. By extending this to incorporate the recuperative functions of tonic pain and by understanding endogenous analgesia as part of the same decision systems, I will show ways in which we can develop plausible models of chronic pain based on the underlying computational networks. Second, I'll illustrate a top-down approach, which aims to understand the pathology of chronic pain by studying the brain in patients populations. Focusing on brain connectivity, I'll present data from network decoding and graph theory that allows us to build network-based biomarkers for chronic pain, and identify key neurobiological features that characterise the pain state. Ultimately, I will argue that progress can only be made when these two approaches meet. This should allow us to develop novel, technology-based treatments, and I will present several recent examples of what this might look like.

I am a Wellcome Clinical Fellow at the Computational and Biological Learning Lab at Cambridge University, Principal Investigator at the Center for Information and Neural Networks (National institute of Information and Communications Technology) in Osaka, and Professor at the Immunology Frontier Research Center in Japan. I am an honorary consultant neurologist at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, and Sackler Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge.