A 2023 Crick PhD project with Florencia Iacaruso
Project background and description
Animal survival is dependent on the ability to sense the surroundings and extract relevant sensory features to execute an appropriate behavioural response. In the case of a predator, it will need to evaluate its own position and that of the prey, define an approach strategy and implement the proper motor commands to achieve it. The most efficient strategy involves the estimation of the prey future position and should account for the delays in the predator’s sensory and motor abilities to make a predictive interception.
In the mammalian midbrain, a structure known as superior colliculus plays a key role in orienting behaviours towards or away from biologically relevant stimuli. It presents a layered structure where the superficial layer represents visual information, and the intermediate and deeper layers are considered multimodal and motor. However, how this brain structure and its circuit architecture contribute to the performance of goal-directed interceptive approaches is not yet fully understood. In order to study this, we developed a behavioural paradigm in which mice pursue and intercept a moving target displayed on a touch screen to obtain a reward. Our results indicate that mice can adapt their pursuit strategy to the demands of the task in a predictive way.
The aim of this specific project is to decipher how the functional organization of the superior colliculus supports predictive pursuit behaviour. You will perform large scale electrophysiological recordings in behaving mice, while using high speed cameras to track the mouse behaviour, to determine the neuronal correlates of predictive pursuit. You will build models that describe the neural circuit organization that allows the representation of moving sensory stimuli and gives rise to the execution of motor commands that guide the pursuit strategy.
The successful candidate will either come from a degree in neuroscience / biology with an exceptionally strong background and interest in mathematics / data science approaches.
Alternatively, the successful candidate will come from a degree in engineering / physics / mathematics and have a strong background, interest in and enthusiasm for experimental neuroscience / neurophysiology.
Extensive quantitative, analytical ability will be essential and experience in computer programming (ideally Python or Matlab) and enthusiasm for advanced data analysis approaches will be highly advantageous.
The project will build on our recent work developing a novel behavioural task in mice and will take advantage of established techniques in the lab such as large scale neuronal recordings, circuit mapping and optogenetic and chemogenetic approaches. The project offers broad training in experimental physiological techniques as well as data analysis and processing approaches.
This is a highly collaborative project and ability and enthusiasm to work and communicate in a team is absolutely essential. Previous work with animals and experience in behavioural and electrophysiological assays is desirable but not essential as this can be part of the training programme.
1. Hoy, J.L., Bishop, H.I. and Niell, C.M. (2019)
Defined cell types in superior colliculus make distinct contributions to prey capture behavior in the mouse.
Current Biology 29: 4130-4138 e4135. PubMed abstract
2. Yoo, S.B.M., Tu, J.C., Piantadosi, S.T. and Hayden, B.Y. (2020)
The neural basis of predictive pursuit.
Nature Neuroscience 23: 252-259. PubMed abstract