Prof Kristine Krug investigates the neural basis of visual perception and decision-making. The long-term scientific aim of her research is to understand and control the neuronal signals that generate our rich visual experience. She has been awarded a Heisenberg-Professorship by the DFG to work in Magdeburg as Chair in Sensory Physiology.
After a DPhil at Oxford University on how ordered maps are formed during brain development, Kristine has been investigating the contribution of single brain cells to visual perception. She held a Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship of the Royal Society from 2001-2005. Employing ambiguous figures similar to the Necker Cube and 3D images, she characterized not only how neurons in extra-striate visual area V5/MT carry signals directly related to decisions about 3D perception but also showed that the same brain cells may carry signals that are not accessible to perceptual decisions. Her work as a Royal Society University Research Fellow at Oxford demonstrated that neural signals in primate V5/MT contribute causally to perceptual decisions about visual objects formed by combining 3D and motion cues.
As Associate Professor in Neuroscience in Oxford, Kristine showed how contextual factors, like reward and social advice, affect the processing of sensory evidence for decision-making and therefore visual perception. She studied the anatomical connections within area V5/MT as well its cortical connections using MRI and histological methods in order to elucidate the neural circuitry that underlies simple perceptual decisions.
In recent years, the closest experimental links between brain signals and perception have been established in awake primates between the activity of single neurons and perceptual decisions. Kristine’s current work builds on this powerful research platform she has built and extends it to increasingly naturalistic settings of perception and action. Specifically, her current work focuses on the continuity of perceptual activities. Rather than treating perception and behaviour as a sequence of discrete, finite episodes, each culminating in a decision, the new experimental paradigms will study of how the brain engages in active, continuous monitoring of the dynamically changing incoming flow of information. Linking the activity of brain cells in non-human primates with human MRI through common perceptual tasks and computational models, she investigates altered decision-making and perception in patients with psychological disorders, like autism and bipolar disorder.
Kristine's work has been funded by the DFG, the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society, the BBSRC, and the Volkswagen Foundation.
RESEARCH SUMMARY: NEURAL CIRCUITS FOR PERCEPTION AND DECISION-MAKING IN PRIMATES
My research group seeks to explain and alter perceptual decision-making from the level of single brain cells through to mental states. With this work, we aim to understand the neuronal code underlying conscious processes. One fundamental problem is that neuronal activity sometimes represents processes of which we are aware and sometimes codes for information to which we have no access (Krug et al. J. Neurophysiology2004). Using electrical microstimulation of neurons in rhesus monkeys, we can show how the activity of neurons in visual cortex causally contributes to the perceptual appearance of visual objects. For instance, we have identified a strong cognitive signal in the activity of single neurons in extrastriate visual area V5/MT that shapes perceptual decisions about 3D-motion figures (Dodd et al. J. Neuroscience 2001; Krug et al. Current Biology 2013). This brain area in rhesus monkeys has a structural and functional homologue in humans (Large et al. Cerebral Cortex 2016). We have shown that contextual effects, like expected reward and social influence, interact with sensory signals in the brain and potentially affect visual perception (Cicmil el al. elife2015; Large et al. PNAS 2019). This has profound implications for our understanding of decision-making in healthy individuals and in individuals with a psychiatric disorder.