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Denis Burdakov : System Neuroscience and Energy Control Laboratory

We are investigating how nerve cells in the brain process information from the body and the outside world to generate normal and unhealthy behaviours.

The brain gathers information from the body and the outside world and uses it to generate complex conscious activities such as eating, moving, or deciding what to do next. The brain also controls many unconscious behaviours including controlling breathing, regulating blood sugar levels and keeping the heart beating. But a human brain is made up of billions of individual nerve cells – so how do these relatively simple cells work together to generate such sophisticated thoughts and actions?

Individual nerve cells act a bit like tiny computer chips, receiving and processing information then sending out chemical and electrical signals in response. We are studying how interconnected networks of nerve cells within the brain work together to process information and generate complex behaviours.

To do this, we are using cutting-edge neuroscience techniques that enable us to manipulate individual nerve cells and measure their electrical and chemical activity in living animals. We are particularly interested in finding out how signals in the brain control the balance between food intake and energy expenditure, shedding light on the reasons why some people are more likely to become obese while others don’t.

Understanding how complex behaviours arise from networks of nerve cells is a major challenge. Our work is revealing exciting new knowledge about how the brain works and also helping to explain what happens when these neural circuits don’t respond as expected, contributing to the development of health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.