Understanding the rules of life

Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

Category: CASE Studentships

All-optical analysis of neuronal circuits in the cerebral cortex using a novel imaging configuration

Project No.2238

Primary Supervisor

Prof Miguel Maravall- University of Sussex


Dr Christian Wilms – 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, a result that

challenges traditional accounts of how the cortex works. These complex non-sensory responses in sensory cortex depend on the neurons receiving input connections from other brain regions: we need to understand how these long-range connections shape the sensitivity of the recipient neurons. For this, a new two-photon microscopy configuration must be developed to allow us to stimulate long-range connections across cortical regions, while simultaneously recording the responses of neurons in the recipient region. In this project, the Maravall lab and Scientifica will collaborate to set up such configurations for multi-site optical stimulation and imaging, augmenting the capacities of conventional two-photon microscopes. A key aspect of the project will be the industry segment at Scientifica, where the student will help devise and prototype the digital micromirror device projector-based optical set-up. The set-up will then be tested in the Maravall lab and used to tackle the scientific problem described above, and will later also be offered by Scientifica to other end-users. The project thus combines an exciting and novel scientific question with cutting-edge technological development at a leading UK bioengineering company.