Department of Neurobiology

Sadagopan, Srivatsun (Vatsun)
Assistant Professor, Neurobiology
Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University (2008)
Address: 10021 BST3
   3501 Fifth Avenue, STE 10021
   Pittsburgh, PA, 15213-3301
Telephone: 412-624-8920
Fax: 412-383-5298

Research Interests:

We hear sounds such as speech in a wide range of listening conditions, of which few parameters are under our control. For example, sounds might emanate from different locations, at different intensities, in the presence of other noise or distracting sounds, and in echoing settings. For a given sound, each of these environmental variables alters the physical pressure waveform that impinges on our eardrums; yet, we are able to interpret these varied physical waveforms as arising from the same underlying sound. In other words, our perception of sounds is perceptually invariant to a large number of nuisance parameters, and one of the primary functions of the ascending auditory system is to develop this perceptual invariance. The research thrust of our laboratory is to study the mechanisms by which such invariance properties are generated in the neural responses of primary and higher auditory cortex. In particular, we focus on one behaviorally important set of sounds - vocal communication sounds.

Understanding how the brain processes sounds in realistic conditions is a central problem in auditory neuroscience. The best example of the impressive human ability to 'tune in' on particular sounds in noisy environments is the “cocktail party effect” – where a listener in a crowded, loquacious room can attend to one particular voice of interest. This ability is unmatched by modern speech recognition algorithms, which have accurate performance in silence, but greatly degraded performance in such real-world situations. Yet, the mechanisms and computations by which the brain accomplishes this feat is largely unknown. We hope to answer the fundamental questions of what computations the brain might be using to solve this problem, and what underlying circuitry supports these computations.

We use a range of techniques to answer these questions, including in-vivo array and multi-electrode extracellular recordings and in-vivo whole-cell intracellular recordings from awake (and eventually behaving) animals. We expect to add in-vivo two-photon imaging, inducible genetics and viral tract-tracing to this suite of techniques in the near future.

Realistic listening conditions pose a significant challenge to patients with communication disorders such as dyslexia, some sensory aphasias, to the hearing impaired, and to the elderly with age-related decline in hearing. We hope to provide fundamental insights into these disorders by understanding the circuit mechanisms by which the brain extracts meaningful signals from noise.

Sample Publications:

A causal relationship between face-patch activity and face-detection behavior.
Sadagopan S, Zarco W, Freiwald WA.
Elife. 2017 Apr 4;6. pii: e18558.

High-field functional magnetic resonance imaging of vocalization processing in marmosets.
Sadagopan S, Temiz-Karayol NZ, Voss HU.
Sci Rep. 2015 Jun 19;5:10950.

Feedforward origins of response variability underlying contrast invariant orientation tuning in cat visual cortex.
Sadagopan S, Ferster D.
Neuron. 2012 Jun 7;74(5):911-23.

Fine frequency tuning in monkey auditory cortex and thalamus.
Bartlett EL, Sadagopan S, Wang X.
J Neurophysiol. 2011 Aug;106(2):849-59.

Contribution of inhibition to stimulus selectivity in primary auditory cortex of awake primates.
Sadagopan S, Wang X.
J Neurosci. 2010 May 26;30(21):7314-25.

Nonlinear spectrotemporal interactions underlying selectivity for complex sounds in auditory cortex.
Sadagopan S, Wang X.
J Neurosci. 2009 Sep 9;29(36):11192-202.

Level invariant representation of sounds by populations of neurons in primary auditory cortex.
Sadagopan S, Wang X.
J Neurosci. 2008 Mar 26;28(13):3415-26.

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