How does the brain create and sustain neural maps of space?
Our goal is to understand how functional circuits in the brain are assembled to represent and remember salient features of the world in an animal’s day-to-day life. Our research focuses on a brain region called the hippocampus, understood for decades to have a special role in navigation and spatial memory. Many neurons in the hippocampus encode features of space such as an organism’s current position and orientation. Recently, increasing evidence indicates that the hippocampal complex also encodes abstract representations such as time, forward planning, and conceptual spaces.
Our research seeks to identify the neural circuits that underlie these cognitive functions, understand how they operate in adults, and how they are created during post-natal brain development.
We explore these questions via three major experimental approaches:
In Vivo Electrophysiology
We use chronic in vivo electrophysiology in freely behaving animals to record the activity of spatially modulated neurons during early life and adulthood, in order to identify the progression in representational capacity of these cells as brain development proceeds, sensory input is refined, and the behavioural repertoire expands.
2-D Virtual reality
We have developed 2D virtual reality environments in collaboration with Neil Burgess and John King at UCL, in order to identify critical inputs for spatial representations, and to test their flexibility in the face of environmental change, in adulthood and during development.
We use in vivo calcium imaging to sample the activity of neural populations in order to differentiate subpopulations participating in spatial and/or abstract representations, and determine whether these populations change across the lifespan.