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Seminar: Professor Michael Yartsev

March 24, 2017 @ 16:00 - 17:30

Studying the Neural basis of Complex Spatial and Acoustic Behaviors – in Freely Behaving and Flying Bats
Friday 24 March @ 4 pm5:30 pm (Sherrington Library, Sherrington Building)

Michael Yartsev from the Department of Bioengineering and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, UC Berkeley will talk about his research at the Cortex Club on Friday, 24th of March.

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Professor Michael Yartsev currently works at UC Berkeley, Department of Bioengineering and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. He is also a CV Starr fellow at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University, with Prof. Carlos Brody. He obtained his PhD in Neurobiology at the Weizmann institute under the supervision of Prof. Nachum Ulanovsky. Throughout his career he has received numerous prizes including the 2015 Brain Initiative EAGER award from the National Science Foundation, the 2013 Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology and the 2013 Donald B. Lindsley prize in Behavioral Neuroscience, Society of Neuroscience.

Current research focus:
“Our lab seeks to understand the neural basis of complex spatial and acoustic behaviors in mammals. To do so, we use one of the most spatially and acoustically sophisticated mammals on our planet – the echolocating bat. In the spatial domain, we take advantage of the bat’s ability to elegantly navigate during high-speed flight and under varying levels of spatial complexity. In the acoustic domain, we use the bat’s sonar (echolocation) and social communication signals to understand how these are learned and later used during natural behavior. We further develop technologies for monitoring neural activity and optogenetic control in freely behaving and flying bats and apply those to our investigations of neural circuits. Taking this approach, we aim to uncover core principles of brain function that are general across mammals.”

Our lab studies the detailed properties of complex spatial and acoustic behaviors – two core functions of which bats serve as an ideal model system due to their specialized behaviors and unique abilities. In this talk I will describe our research on both.
Either on ground, the ocean depths or in the sky, all animals on our planet must have knowledge of their whereabouts in order to survive. This function heavily relies on the hippocampal formation that contains a set of spatially modulated neurons, including ‘place-cells’ in the hippocampus and ‘grid-cells’ in the entorhinal cortex. In the first part of the talk I will describe some of the work we have done to elucidate the neural mechanisms of navigation in the hippocampal formation of freely behaving and flying bats as well as our current research directions.

In the second part of the talk, I will switch gears towards discussing our newest research program which utilize the unique ability of bats for vocal learning, an extremely rare ability amongst mammalian species. In detail, vocal learning, the ability to deliberatively and purposefully modify vocal signals based on auditory feedback, is a key requirement for human spoken language. Here, we have been developing novel technologies for studying neural circuits in freely behaving bats and are uniquely situated to overcome one of the major, long-standing roadblocks in contemporary neuroscience research by embarking on the first detailed investigation of vocal learning in the mammalian brain. I will present unpublished data we obtained demonstrating the rare vocal learning abilities of bats as well as the first neural correlate for the encoding and development of learned vocalizations in the mammalian brain.

Further reading
Yartsev and Ulanovsky, 2013. Representation of Three-Dimensional Space in the Hippocampus of Flying Bats. Science 1 Vol. 340, Issue 6130, pp. 367-372, DOI:10.1126/science.1235338


March 24, 2017
16:00 - 17:30


Sherrington Library, Level 2
Sherrington Building
Oxford, OX1 3PT
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