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alt textThe lab’s broad research objectives are to understand the brain computations involved in the processing of sensory information. We have a strong interest in understanding visual processing and its contributions to behavior from a retina-centric point of view. In particular, how the information extracted from visual scene by the retina relates to downstream brain computations and behavior.

To address these questions we employ electrophysiological and advanced imaging techniques to probe neural activity, molecular techniques to target and manipulate specific cell types and viral tracing techniques to unravel the connectivity between identified neurons. These lines of inquiry address fundamental issues about how information is disseminated in the brain, the collective encoding of information by populations of neurons and the computations performed by identified neural circuits.

 

 

Research

Overview

alt textMany of the computations performed by the nervous system can be interpreted as answers to particular challenges posed by the live histories of an animal. For example, the need to be alert to approaching prey or ability to process optic flow information to guide movement through the environment. In the visual system, the extraction of salient features from the environment begins in the retina, and as information progresses to higher brain centers neurons become tuned to increasingly complex visual features. However, the diversity of the retina’s outputs has yet to be incorporated into our understanding of higher visual function. The major focus of the lab is to put the function of individual visual channels originating in the retina into context by linking them with their destinations in the brain and determining their role in visually guided behavior.

 

The retina as a platform from which to study the function of central brain regions

alt textThis set of projects will combine trans‐synaptic viral tracing techniques with calcium imaging and optogenetic approaches to determine how the different channels of the retina distribute visual information to higher brain centers. To limit ourselves to direct lines of communication it is planned to restrict the search for disynaptic connections, involving a single relay, between the retina and the central brain target of interest. We are currently focusing on pathways passing through the superior colliculus. This set of experiments will allow us to determine which retinal channels are assigned dedicated computational tasks, if some channels are recombined in the relay stations of the brain (LGN and superior colliculus), and solidify our understanding about the dictionary of information that is sent to different brain regions.

 

Encoding of visual information

alt textEach brain region is comprised of many different cell types and its output is carried by hundreds or thousands of neurons but little is known about how the population belonging to a single cell type collectively encodes information. The lab will address this set of questions using high-density multi-electrode arrays, with which we can target and simultaneously record from a set of ganglion cells belonging to a physiological or genetically identifiable type.

 

 

 

The retinal as a model system to study local neural circuitry

alt textEach type of retinal output neuron has an afferent circuit in which a few other cell types take part. These circuits are repeated across the retina in a series of mosaics. By examining the structure of genetically identified neural circuits one can address fundamental questions about the functional architecture of the retina. To study these microcircuits independently we combine trans-synaptic circuit tracing, two-photon targeted patch-clamp recording and calcium imaging techniques to label and record the activity from all members of an individual microcircuit.

 

 

 

Lab Members

Former Members

Ioannis Moustakis
Erasmus student from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Maria Roa
Erasmus student from University of Barcelona.
Ares Selles
Erasmus student from University of Barcelona.
Emily Burke
Intern from Northeastern University.
Steven Heynderickx
Research Assistant now QA Specialist at Katoen Natie in Antwerp.
Adrien Philippon
Master’s student from l’Université libre de Bruxelles.
Cedric Stefens
Master’s student from l’Université libre de Bruxelles.
Effie Roumania
Erasmus student from University of Patras, Greece.
Ya-Chien Chan
Post-doctoral fellow from 2013 – 2016.
Cedric Tits
Master’s student from Université catholique de Louvain.
Vincent Vestrappen
Master’s student from Groep T KUL.
Amy Kristl.
Intern from Northeastern University
Leighanne Wang
Intern from Northeastern University
Amaury Vanvinckenroye
Master’s student from University of Liege
Laura Tucker
Summer RVO student from Yale University