The Cortex Club connects researchers at the University of Oxford with world-leading neuroscientists through a unique educational forum dealing with cutting-edge topics and significant challenges in neuroscience. Our events range from small intense debates with up-and-coming scientists to large discussion sessions led by internationally prominent speakers, followed by the opportunity to ask them questions over drinks.

Model-based predictions for dopamine

In collaboration with the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, we are excited to announce the first online talk with Yael Niv, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the Princeton University. Further details on how to join both sessions via Zoom will be sent on Thursday morning through our mailing list!

Coordinated cerebellar dynamics during goal-directed behaviour

Cortex Club Presents: Dr Dimitar Kostadinov

Everyone is welcome to attend this talk at 4pm in the Sherrington Room, Sherrington Building.

The cerebellum facilitates smooth motor execution and learning by constructing internal models that link sensation to action. In addition to this well-studied function, there is increasing evidence for a cerebellar contribution to cognitive processes, such as processing of reward. We aim to understand how sensory, motor, and higher-order parameters are encoded by populations of cerebellar neurons.
To address this question, we use population two-photon calcium imaging and Neuropixels probes to record activity from populations of cerebellar neurons, with a focus on Purkinje cells – the output neurons of the cerebellar cortex. In this talk, I will discuss our recent findings addressing how the climbing fiber pathway conveys both sensorimotor and reward-related signals to Purkinje cells during goal-directed behaviour, and how these signals are shaped by learning.

To join the speaker at the pub, sign up here:

Dynamic control of presynaptic function in health and disease

Cortex Club Presents: Dr Nils Brose

Talk + lunch with the speaker at 2.30 in the Sherrington Library.
Talk at 1.15pm in the Large Lecture Theatre.

The process of synaptic vesicle priming is a key determinant of synapse strength and plasticity because it maintains a pool of readily releasable vesicles at any given time and determines the time course of synaptic fatigue and recovery, e.g. upon exhaustion of readily releasable vesicles during and after phases of high synaptic activity. The corresponding forms of synaptic short-term plasticity determine multiple complex brain functions, from sensory adaptation to working memory. Munc13s execute synaptic vesicle priming by regulating the assembly of fusogenic SNARE complexes. Munc13s are regulated by three major pathways, involving (i) calcium-calmodulin signaling via dedicated amphipathic calcium-calmodulin binding sites, (ii) diacylglycerol signaling via C1 domains, and (iii) calcium-phospholipid signaling via C2 domains. We studied the functional relevance of these regulatory pathways in various synapse types and found that calcium-dependent Munc13-regulating pathways are major determinants of synaptic short-term plasticity, synapse endurance, and synaptic fidelity. I will discuss these data in the context (i) of the combined role of signaling pathways that target presynaptic function, (ii) of the role of Munc13 priming proteins in determining the unique features of regulated exocytosis at nerve cells synapses, and (iii) of the role of Munc13 mutations in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Free sandwich lunch will be provided.

Algorithms for learning in the mammalian neocortex

On Thursday, we welcome Prof. Alison Barth from Carnegie Mellon University, for a talk on sensory information processing and plasticity in the neocortex. If you would like to join us for after-talk pub with the speakers, sign up here:

Differential Resilience to Perturbation of Circuits with Similar Performance

We are excited to announce that in collaboration with DPAG, we are hosting Professor Eve Marder, from the Biology Department and Volen Center, Brandeis University.

She will give a talk at 1.15 pm in the Large Lecture Theatre, Sherrington Building. This will be followed by a lunch with the speaker, at 2.30pm in Sherrington Library.

If you would like to attend this lunch, please sign up here:

Due to the high demand, we will need registration for the lunch by the 18th February.

Title: Differential Resilience to Perturbation of Circuits with Similar Performance

Healthy individual animals and people are nonetheless differentially resilient to environmental challenge. We use experimental and computational methods to explore this resilience in a small nervous system from crabs. Experimental work on the crustacean stomatogastric ganglion (STG) has revealed a 2-6 fold variability in many of the parameters that are important for circuit dynamics. Theoretical work shows that similar network performance can arise from diverse underlying parameter sets. Together, these lines of evidence suggest that each individual animal, at any moment in its life-time, has found a different solution to producing “good enough” motor patterns for healthy performance in the world. This poses the question of the extent to which animals with different sets of underlying circuit parameters can respond reliably and robustly to environmental perturbations and neuromodulation. We use both experimental and computational methods to study the effects of temperature, pH, high K + concentrations, and neuromodulation on the networks of the STG from the crab, Cancer borealis. While all animals are remarkably robust and reliable to substantial perturbations, extreme perturbations produce crashes and degraded function. These crashes differ substantially across animals and in models with different underlying parameter differences. The idiosyncratic nature of the crashes provides heuristic insight into the diverse nature of individuals to extreme perturbations. Moreover, models of homeostatic regulation of intrinsic excitability give insight into the kinds of mechanisms that could give rise to the highly variable solutions to stable circuit performance. The underlying parameter differences across the animals in a population and their differences in crash behavior provide a necessary substrate for evolution.

We look forward to seeing you there!