The neural basis of learning

Research Opportunity
PhD students, Honours students, Master of Biomedical Science
Number of Honour Places Available
Number of Master Places Available
Primary Supervisor Email Number Webpage
A/Prof Lucy Palmer

Summary The Neural Networks group uses various techniques to record from neurons in vivo including two photon calcium imaging, somatic and dendritic patch-clamp electrophysiology and optogenetics. Through this work, we investigate how sensory information is received, transformed and modulated in neurons, but also how this processing of synaptic input contributes to the overall neural network activity underlying learning and behaviour. 

Project Details

Our memories define who we are. Whether it’s a memory from our childhood or a memory from eating breakfast in the morning, all memories combine to contribute to how we react to everyday life. It is crucial that memories are formed and can be recalled at will. How the brain does this is largely mysterious. The brain consists of billions of individual neurons that are connected to one another forming a complex wiring pattern. An individual neuron receives thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of inputs from other brain cells. Almost all of these inputs land onto a neuron’s complex, tree-like branches, called dendrites. Dendrites then combine these thousands of inputs into action potentials, which is transferred to thousands of other neurons (and the process continues). This is how the brain communicates and changes to this cascade of events is how we make sense of our environment and learn new things. 
Despite its importance in everyday life, little is known about the activity of neurons during learning and memory formation. Furthermore, even less is known about how dendrites alter their activity as we learn a new task. Since dendrites are the site of information transfer between neurons, their activity must reflect learning and memory formation. This project will use electrophysiology and two-photon calcium imaging to measure neural activity during learning and memory formation. Optogenetic manipulations will also be used to investigate the importance of dendritic integration in the animal’s ability to successfully perform the learnt behaviour. 
The results of this study are extremely important in understanding how neural and dendritic integration influences learning in the cortex, leading to a greater knowledge about the cortical activity underlying the processing of sensory information. Identifying the cellular mechanisms of the feedback functional connectivity is crucial not only for understanding higher brain functions but it also reveals potential targets for direct therapeutic intervention in the diseased brain where memory formation and learning is impaired such as dementia, traumatic brain injury and autism spectrum disorders (just to name a few).

Research Opportunities

PhD students, Honours students, Master of Biomedical Science
Students who are interested in joining this project will need to consider their elegibility as well as other requirements before contacting the supervisor of this research

Graduate Research application

Honours application

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact a supervisor.

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