“It is necessary, therefore, for that which moves itself to have a part that causes motion but is unmoved and a part that is moved but does not necessarily cause motion” – Aristotle
Sam Inayat conducts research into the behavioral and neuronal mechanisms underlying movement. His primary focus lies in unraveling how the brain might encode and decode sensory-evoked and spontaneous signals during various behavioral states. These states encompass both periods of rest, whether awake or sleeping, and movements including locomotion and non-locomotor actions. This captivating line of inquiry holds significant importance from both health and fundamental scientific perspectives.
From a health science standpoint, investigating behavior-specific sensory perception is paramount in understanding impairments observed in numerous neurological disorders. For instance, in Alzheimer's disease, deficits in spatial navigation, which rely on environmental perception, manifest as one of the earliest symptoms. Similarly, Autism Spectrum Disorders exhibit impaired translation of sensory signals into adaptive movement. Furthermore, delving into the realm of movement also offers valuable insights into stress reduction techniques such as massage, running, exercise, and environmental enrichment.
On the fundamental science front, elucidating behavior-specific sensory perception can shed light on the intricate integration of sensory, cognitive, and motor control components that harmoniously orchestrate behavior. This concept aligns elegantly with Aristotle's renowned dictum stated above. Moreover, this line of research allows exploration of how different neural networks may have evolved to handle stationary versus dynamic events, as exemplified by the ventral (for perception) and dorsal (for action) streams within the primate neocortex.
Sam's current endeavors center around constructing functional maps of the brain at both micro- and macro-circuit levels, discerning specific cell types and their roles during rest and movement states. Notably, he has uncovered a functional map within the mouse hippocampus comprising excitatory cells, indicating their involvement in sensory perception and locomotion guidance. This dynamic map continuously updates, featuring conjunctive cell populations that represent similar events and complementary cells that are event-specific, distinguishing immobility from locomotion. Sam's research aspirations extend to investigating the genesis, maturation, and maintenance of these maps with a cellular focus not only within the hippocampus but also in other cortical and subcortical brain regions. These include the somatosensory, motor, prefrontal, and entorhinal cortices, as well as the superior colliculus. Additionally, he aims to explore these maps in relation to age and disease progression, potentially uncovering novel biomarkers for neurological conditions. For instance, identifying changes in neuronal function preceding the development of sensory and motor dysfunctions in prodromal Alzheimer's disease could serve as early indicators of disease onset. By examining these functional maps, Sam also addresses fundamental questions in neuroscience, such as how behavior recruits excitation versus inhibition or modulates information flow in the brain, both in a bottom-up and top-down manner.
To conduct his research, Sam adopts an integrative approach, employing methodologies to control the states of rest and locomotion and recording techniques including functional neuroimaging, electrophysiology, pupillography, and videography, among others. Through this multidimensional approach, Sam strives to unravel the intricacies of neuronal mechanisms, advancing our understanding of the brain and paving the way for discoveries in behavior-specific brain functions.
Dr. Inayat earned his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL (2011), followed by two postdoctoral fellowships in Neuroscience at Northwestern University & University of Illinois at Chicago (2014) and at the University of Lethbridge (ULeth) in Alberta, Canada (2017). He also worked as an Imaging Scientist in theDepartment of Neuroscience and as a Sessional Instructor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at ULeth (2023).