Vincent P. Ferrera, PhD

Vincent P. Ferrera, PhD

Research Interest

The Ferrera Lab has three main areas of interest:

Relational Learning

My lab studies how animals acquire knowledge of abstract relationships.  Our approach exploits the ability of animals to apply the principle of transitivity to ordered sets.  A familiar example is the problem “If Andy is taller than Mary, and Bill is shorter than Mary, is Andy taller than Bill?”  This problem can be presented to animals in non-verbal form and every vertebrate species that has been so tested has shown some ability to learn transitive inference. We study this form of learning using computational approaches (reinforcement learning and neural networks), with multi-channel neurophysiology in parietal and prefrontal cortex, and with novel biosensors (see below).

Focused Ultrasound for Neuromodulation and Targeted Drug Delivery

High frequency (0.5-2 MHz) sound waves can be focused deep in the brain, bypassing the skull and meninges, a method known as transcranial ultrasound (TUS) or focused ultrasound (FUS).  This method delivers mechanical and thermal energy to a small (2-5 mm) region of brain tissue.   This energy can alter neuronal activity either directly or in conjunction with mechanosensitive channels introduced artificially in targeted brain regions.  Focused ultrasound can also be used to locally disrupt the blood-brain barrier for targeted drug delivery.  We are using these approaches to study working memory with the goal of developing novel clinical therapies for memory disorders.

Biosensors for Neurotransmitter Release

In the past few years, G-protein-coupled receptor-activation-based (GRAB) biosensors have been developed for acetylcholine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.  These sensors allow one to record changes in the concentration of these neurotransmitters using fiber photometry in awake, behaving animals, with a temporal resolution of tens of milliseconds.  We have developed this approach in visual cortex and are planning to use it in prefrontal cortex to measure changes in neurotransmitter levels during relational learning.

Simultaneous changes in acetylcholine (ACh) levels and neural activity during goal-directed behavior in non-human primates. FM Silva, M Bompolaki, A Dranovsky, V Ferrera.  Journal of Vision 23 (9), 5412-5412, 2023

A mathematical theory of relational generalization in transitive inference. S Lippl, K Kay, G Jensen, VP Ferrera, LF Abbott. bioRxiv, 2023.08. 22.554287, 2023

Alteration of functional connectivity in the cortex and major brain networks of non-human primates following focused ultrasound exposure. D Liu, FAM Silva, S Sanatkhani, A Pouliopoulos, E Konofagou, VP Ferrera. bioRxiv, 2023.02. 16.528741, 2023

Superstitious learning of abstract order from random reinforcement. Y Jin, G Jensen, J Gottlieb, V Ferrera. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119 (35), e2202789119, 5, 2022

Long term study of motivational and cognitive effects of low-intensity focused ultrasound neuromodulation in the dorsal striatum of nonhuman primates. F Munoz, A Meaney, A Gross, K Liu, AN Pouliopoulos, D Liu, EE Konofagou, VP Ferrera.  Brain Stimulation 15 (2), 360-372, 22, 2022

Neural dynamics and geometry for transitive inference. K Kay, XX Wei, R Khajeh, M Beiran, CJ Cueva, G Jensen, VP Ferrera, LF Abbott.  bioRxiv, 2022.10. 10.511448