Neurons in the visual system.

Petr Znamenskiy : Specification and Function of Neural Circuits Laboratory

We are studying how specialized circuits of nerve cells in the visual system are wired to help animals perceive and navigate their environment.

Neurons in the brain come in dozens of specialized cell types, shaped by millions of years of evolution. To perform the computations essential for animals’ survival, different classes of neurons connect in a precise arrangement in the brain’s circuits, carefully choosing which inputs to listen to and where to send their outputs.

However, we do not yet understand how the activity of genes within different cell types helps to establish these intricate connectivity rules, defining their function within the circuit.

To answer this question, we are studying a part of the brain responsible for vision, the visual cortex. Among all the senses, vision is exceptionally attuned to provide detailed information about the environment from a distance. However, the visual signals available to the brain are limited to the two-dimensional images formed on the retinae.

To successfully navigate the environment, forage for food, identify threats or recognise other members of their species, animals’ brains must infer the 3D structure of the visual scene based on this incomplete information.

We are trying to understand how specialized classes of neurons process these signals, how their responses arise as a result of their connections with other cells, and how these connections are established during development.