Neurons in the cerebral cortex and connected brain areas produce electrical signals that process information. These signals resemble tunes, each with its own melody, timbre and rhythm. Neurons and their tunes organize into orchestras which ultimately produce our perception of the world and our actions within it. We want to understand how large collections of cortical neurons organize dynamically to process information and produce behavior.
The cerebral cortex occupies more than 75% of our brains and it plays central roles in virtually all forms of flexible and adaptive behavior. Yet we still know little about how cortical circuits are organized and how they process information. Our goal is to identify core principles underlying information processing in cortical circuits and related structures.
Analysis of cortical circuits needs to proceed at two distinct conceptual levels. One level deals with the computations performed by the circuit. What does the circuit do? Answers to this question require analysis of neural representations at specific nodes of the circuit, during relevant behavior. The second level is about the biophysical implementation of the computation. What mechanisms shape behavior-related spike trains at specific circuit nodes? Answers to this question demand a detailed understanding of cellular and synaptic properties of the circuit components. Our lab straddles these levels of analysis.
Heeding Sydney's maxim (see right) we also have a long-standing interest in the development of new optical, molecular, electrophysiological, and behavioral methods for brain research. For example, we have teamed up with the Looger and Jayaraman labs to form the GENIE project with the goal to develop genetically encoded sensors and effectors for neuronal function. We also develop new kinds of microscopes for large-scale cellular and synaptic imaging during behavior. If possible we make tools developed in our lab, including mice, viruses, software, hardware widely available.
Interested in joining our lab? E-mail svobodak_at_janelia.hhmi.org.
We know that the dynamic processes of things like perception, intentionality, attention, learning, and memory are embedded in the activity in widely distributed systems of the cortex and its subcortical connections. .... This sphinx is as enigmatic as ever—the problem for the next century.
Vernon Mountcastle, Cerebral Cortex 1995
Sydney Brenner (Janelia muse)