Dynamics of neuronal networks controlling movement and sensing

Adviser: David Golomb

advertised on Tue, 27 Oct 2020

Project description

Neuronal circuits in the brain and spinal cord process sensory information, make decisions and control movement. To explain the underlying mechanism of operations of these circuits, our group uses theoretical and computational techniques borrowed from physics, especially from dynamical system theory and statistical mechanics, in addition to extensive numerical simulations. Specifically, I propose two research projects for physics students.

The first project concerns the sensory-motor system used for the processing of touch. Rodents move their whiskers (facial hair) rhythmically and use them to sense their environment. We have studied theoretically the generation of the whisking rhythm in the brainstem, whisker bending upon touch, and neuronal responses to the force applied on the whisker. In the project, the student will decipher a feedback loop and will investigate theoretically and computationally the effects of touch signals on whisker movement and the effects of whisker movement on touch signals.

The second project deals with the control of ankle movement by the spinal cord. Spinal cord circuit generate both periodic movements, for example during walking, and dexterous movements, such as holding and grasping. The student will analyze neuronal networks in the brainstem and will characterize the dynamical transitions between periodic and non-periodic states.