Creating innovative bio-convergent technologies for better human life

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Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory
Sang Ah Lee

Assistant Professor

At the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, we are broadly interested in the origins of cognitive abilities and how they change over the course of the lifespan. We investigate the behavioral and neural correlates of spatial computation, navigation, memory, and symbolic thinking. Our aim is to understand the core foundations of human intelligence and to uncover new methods to assess and improve disrupted cognitive function in neurodevelopmental or neurodegenerative disorders.


1. Neurocognitive biomarkers of memory and learning

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To fully understand how the brain represents, stores, and computes information to guide behavior, one of the aims of our research is to elucidate the neural biomarkers underlying day-to-day mental processes such as spatial cognition, attention, and memory. For example, how does the organize our spatiotemporally continuous experiences into meaningful information and events? How do we store and retrieve this information, and what factors (e.g., environmental properties, affective state) influence that process? We are currently investigating these questions through the use of neuroimaging techniques and electrophysiology (including human intracranial EEG).


2. Cognitive development and aging


We conduct research with children of all ages (from infancy to late childhood) tracking the development of their cognitive abilities in order to understand how we human come to possess abstract conceptual representations, such as those necessary for Euclidian geometry or mental time travel. Because the study of cognitive development provides a unique window into how the mind works and changes over experience, we design cognitive tasks in the form of simple child- friendly games and also track the development of neural activity using safe, FDA-approved neural measurement tools such as EEG and fNIRS. Just as we are interested in the improvements in cognition that accompany brain development, we are also interested in impairments in cognition that accompany brain dysfunction, particularly in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, we are developing better cognitive tests that can aid in the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and targeted training programs to rehabilitate hippocampal function.


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3. Modulating Cognition


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Cognition is essential in maintaining a high quality of life. Therefore, it is crucial that we develop more technologically advanced ways of modulating brain function. We are currently exploring a variety of ways in which this might be accomplished. First, we are developing highly-engaging virtual reality-based spatiotemporal memory tasks aimed to activate the fronto-hippocampal network. Second, we are identifying the neural signatures of attention, observing how emotions affect attention and memory, and using implicit input and feedback to enhance emotional regulation and attentional control. Third, we are using deep brain stimulation in surgical epilepsy patients (who have clinically implanted electrodes in their brain) to enhance their attention, cognition, and memory.


Recent Publications
  • 1. Jun, S., Lee, S. A., Kim, J. S., Jeong, W., Chung, C. K. (in press). Task-dependent effects of intracranial hippocampal stimulation on human memory and hippocampal theta power. Brain Stimulation.
  • 2. Mastrogiuseppe, M., Bertelsen, N., Bedeschi, M. F., & Lee, S. A. (2019). The organization of memory components in time: Episodic memory in typical and atypical development. Scientific Reports, 9:18447.
  • 3. Negen, J., Sandri, A., Lee, S. A. & Nardini, M. (2019). Boundaries in spatial cognition: Looking like a boundary is more important than being a boundary. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000760.
  • 4. Gianni, E., de Zorzi, L., & Lee, S. A. (2018). The developing role of transparent surfaces in children’s spatial representation. Cognitive Psychology, 105, 39–52.
  • 5. Miller, J., Watrous, A. J., Tsitsiklis, M., Lee, S. A., Sheth, S. A., Schevon, C.A., Smith, E. H., Sperling, M. R., Sharan, A., Asadi-Pooya, A. A., Worrell, G. A., Meisenhelter, S., Inman, C. S., Davis, K., A., Lega, B., Wanda, P. A., Das, S. R., Stein, J. M., Gorniak, R. & Jacobs, J. (2018). Lateralized hippocampal oscillations underlie distinct aspects of human spatial memory and navigation. Nature Communications, 9, 2423.
  • 6. Goyal, A., Miller, J., Watrous, A. J., Lee, S. A., Coffey, T., Sperling, M. R., Sharan, A., Worrell, G. A., Berry, B. M., Lega, B., Jobst, B., Davis, K. A., Gross, R. E., Lega, B., Sheth, S., Ezzyat, Y., Das, S. R., Stein, J. M., Gorniak, R., Kahana, M. J., Rizzuto, D. S. & Jacobs, J. (2018). Electrical stimulation in hippocampus and entorhinal cortex impairs spatial and temporal memory encoding. Journal of Neuroscience, 38(19), 4471–4481.
  • 7. Lee, S. A., Miller, J. F., Watrous, A. J., Sperling, M. R., Sharan, A., Worrell, G. A., Berry, B. M., Lega, B., Aronson, J. P., Davis, K. A., Gross, R. E., Lega, B., Sheth, S., Das, S. R., Stein, J. M., Gorniak, R., Rizzuto, D. S. & Jacobs, J. (2018). Electrophysiological signatures of spatial boundaries in the human subiculum. Journal of Neuroscience, 38(13), 3265–3272.
  • 8. Mayer, U., Bhushan, R., Vallortigara, G., & Lee, S. A. (2018). Representation of environmental shape in the hippocampal formation of the domestic chick (Gallus gallus). Brain Structure and Function, 223, 941-953.
  • 9. Lee, S. A. (2018). Domain Specificity. Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior, Eds. J. Vonk and T. Shakelford, Springer International Publishing, Cham, Switzerland.