Understanding the rules of life

Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

Category: CASE Studentships

Accessing and recording task-related neuronal activity in the cerebral cortex: using targeted recording configurations

Project No.2238

Primary Supervisor

Prof Miguel Maravall- University of Sussex


Dr Rodrigo Bammann – Scientifica Ltd



A principal function of the brain is to decide between plans and actions guided by sensory information.

In mammals, the cerebral cortex plays a central role in this process. The Maravall lab is interested in the sensitivity of cortical neurons to sensory and non-sensory signals, and in how this sensitivity depends on connections between different parts of the cortex. We have recently found that neurons in a sensory cortical area respond not just to sensory information but to multiple other kinds of task-related information, a result that challenges traditional accounts of how the cortex works. These complex non-sensory responses in sensory cortex occur in controlled lab conditions and we need to understand how they vary depending on behavioural state and how they relate to responses in other brain regions. To do so it is necessary to record brain activity with single-cell resolution both in the sensory cortex and other brain regions as an animal carries out a naturalistic sensory-dependent task while moving freely. To enable this, the Maravall lab has now set up a “sensory maze” which mice can explore at will while their behaviour is tracked. The scientific aim of this project will be to understand how non-sensory factors affect neuronal responses in sensory cortex under those conditions.

Recent advances in microelectronics have provided powerful tools to record activity in hundreds of neurons across brain regions. Such so-called Neuropixels electrodes deliver this unprecedented capacity whilst enabling use in awake behaving animals. Scientifica are interested in exploring the design and marketing of devices to facilitate the use of Neuropixels electrodes in vivo. These devices need to be tested and fine tuned under experimentally relevant conditions. In this project the student will implement and test a Scientifica device under laboratory conditions. The device will be susceptible of being brought to market. This will give the student an opportunity to generate answers to an important and exciting scientific problem while still be involved in the process of technological development at a leading UK bioengineering company.