Q&A: Assistant Professor Jacqueline Gottlieb

Neural mechanisms of information sampling in humans and non-human primates

Friday 10 May, 14.00pm at the Sherrington Library, Sherrington Building, Oxford


The Cortex Club is delighted to host a Q&A session with Associate Professor Jacqueline Gottlieb from the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Columbia University, who will be giving the DPAG Head of Department Seminar in the Large Lecture Theatre at 13.00. Please join us after the lecture for the Q&A session on May 10th at the Sherrington Library located in the Sherrington Building, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Oxford.

Please register for the Q&A session at: https://forms.gle/hBc2udGJ9j5vcWo87
Free sandwich lunch provided!




In the 1950s, Daniel Berlyne pointed to our large ignorance about a core question in behavior and neural function: not the acquisition of knowledge per se, but the motivation underlying the quest for knowledge. Why do we exert so much effort to obtain knowledge, and why do some questions or sources of information attract our attention, out of the practically infinite range we could potentially explore? Strangely, these questions remain as mysterious today as they were 70 years ago. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that we can no longer ignore them if we are to develop a true understanding of decision making and cognitive function. I will speak about our efforts develop empirical approaches for studying these questions from the point of view of attention control, in tasks that examine how humans and monkeys decide to which stimulus to attend based on curiosity (intrinsic motivation) or to obtain instrumental (extrinsic) goals. I will describe single neuron responses in monkeys and electroencephalography (EEG) correlates of sampling in humans that begin to reveal the intricate and distributed processes through which the brain implements active sampling policies based on cost-benefits estimates and links the decision to sample with the processing of the acquired information.

Birthday Party


The Cortex Club is turning 10 this May!


To celebrate this happy occasion, we warmly invite you to the Cortex Club Birthday Party on May 7th!

The two founding members, Abhishek Banerjee and Dennis Kätzel, will return to Oxford to tell us about their current research on cognitive control mechanisms in brain disorders. Our first and long-standing senior member, Prof Zoltan Molnár, will also join us to talk about the foundation and development of the Club since 2009.

Please join us for this exciting event from 3.30pm on May 7th at the Sherrington Library, DPAG, Oxford, followed by drinks reception in the OCGF seminar room.



15.30-15.35 Opening Remarks by current Cortex Club Presidents

15.35-15.50 Prof Zoltan Molnár, University of Oxford
Cortex Club – The first ten years

15.50-16.30 Dr Abhishek Banjeree, University of Zurich
Probing neural dynamics of adaptive decision-making in health and brain disorders

16.30-17.10 Dr Dennis Kätzel, Ulm University
What to model and what to measure – searching for ground truth in translational psychiatry

17.10-17.30 Birthday Present

17.30-18.00 Champagne reception

18.00 – late  Cortex Club Birthday Social
   at the OCGF Seminar Room, DPAG, with DJ Tom Jahans-Price with free pizza and drinks!


Cortex Club Senior Member


Dr Zoltan Molnár

Professor of Developmental Biology at the University of Oxford

Cortex Club ; Ten first ten years 




The Cortex Club was established in May 2009 by a group of Oxford neuroscience DPhil students spearheaded by Abhishek Banerjee (Paulsen Laboratory) and Dennis Kätzel (Miesenböck Laboratory). The idea was to organize events that range from small intense debates to large discussion sessions led by internationally prominent speakers. All occasions were followed by the opportunity to ask them questions in non-formal, relaxed sessions over drinks. There are hundreds of university clubs at Oxford. To maintain an official University of Oxford Club status the students had to register these Clubs with the Proctors under the sponsorship of a senior academic. The founding committee’s choice has fallen on me in 2009 and I was delighted to serve as founding senior member over the last ten years. Students and postdocs organize the Cortex Club. However, it is open to the entire academic community from
undergraduates to professors and now attracts large and enthusiastic audiences with a mailing list of over 500 members. Generations of Cortex Club Committees improved the formula over the years and The Oxford University Cortex Club developed into a unique educational forum that has excellent reputation. Students usually select cutting-edge topics and significant, challenging issues in neuroscience, such as rate coding versus temporal coding, protomap or protocortex of cortical specialization, utility of various animal models for neuroscience and even philosophy, art or even history of neuroscience. The cortex club events are neither as specialized as the usual journal clubs or research seminars, nor as basic as university lectures, but instead deal with advanced topics in neuroscience in an informal and speculative manner. Undergraduates, MSc and DPhil students join the events together with postdoctoral fellows and faculty. The format ranges from smaller, rather intense debates to large symposia with capacity audiences lead by internationally prominent speakers. The organization, financial support, use of various media and the composition of the committee evolved, so the Club could face new challenges. As the previous presidents and committee members leave Oxford for postdoctoral or faculty positions, they set up new Cortex Clubs around the World. The Cortex Clubs at University of Toronto, Canada, University of Cape Town and The University of the Witwatersrand at Johannesburg, South Africa are wishing happy birthday to their older brother at Oxford.


Cortex Club Founding Member


Dr Abhishek Banerjee

NARSAD Young Investigator at the Brain Research Institute, University of Zürich

Probing neural dynamics of adaptive decision-making in health and brain disorders




Value-guided decision-making involves multiple cognitive maps across distributed brain areas. It is less clear how changes in neural coding flexibly re-maps with altered stimulus-reward contingency adaptively changing animal behaviour. In this talk, I will highlight local and long-range cortical circuit mechanisms underlying flexible decision-making in the mouse lateral orbital cortex. Based on this, I will also argue for a new conceptual framework based on computational psychiatry to understand pathophysiology in complex neurological brain disorders.


Cortex Club Founding Member


Dr Dennis Kätzel

Assistant Professor at the Institute of Applied Physiology, Medical Faculty, Ulm University, Germany.

What to model and what to measure – searching for ground truth in translational psychiatry




The endeavor of translating circuit and behavioural neuroscience discoveries into novel treatments for psychiatric diseases has been revived by the advent of revolutionary methods like optogenetics, chemogenetics, CRISPR/Cas9 and RNAseq, typically applied in rodents. However, these methods cannot circumvent the fundamental – and decade-old – problem that the determination of the right endophenotype to measure is key to predict efficacy of a drug in humans. In this talk I will discuss some lessons learned from the assessment of behavioural and electrophysiological signatures modeling schizophrenia in mice, especially focusing on attention and working memory.

Q&A: Prof. Mehmet Fatih Yanik

Engineering brain activity patterns for therapeutics of disorders

Friday 3 May, 1pm at the Large Lecture Theatre, Sherrington Building, Oxford


The Cortex Club is thrilled to host Prof. Mehmet Fatih Yanik from the University of Zurich, who, as part of the DPAG Head of the Department seminar series, will be talking to us about affecting network behaviour in zebrafish brains using non-invasive neuromodulators. Please join us on May 3rd at the Large Lecture Theatre, located in the Sherrington Building of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics.


We are hosting a Q&A session after the talk from 2.00 to 3.00 to which students and staff are warmly invited.


Prof Yanik has kindly agreed to meet students and staff individually. If you would like to arrange a meeting please contact Lukas Krone at lukas.krone [at] hertford.ox.ac.uk


Brain networks are disrupted in numerous disorders. We will first show how the aberrant brain-wide activity patterns can be corrected by targeting distinct network motifs with multiple neuromodulators using a zebrafish model of human epilepsy and autism. This systematic approach rescues behaviour unlike any other treatment resulting from large-scale drug screens. With methods promising future therapeutic use, we will next show how specific molecular targets in different brain circuits in mammals can be non-invasively and spatially targeted, and discuss how cortex-wide activity patterns can be captured chronically at single neuron resolution with minimal invasiveness using neuromorphic microchips.

Seminar: Dr Athena Akrami

Sensory History in Perceptual Decision Making and Working Memory Tasks

Monday 29 April, 4pm at the Sherrington Library, Sherrington Building, Oxford


The Cortex Club is excited to present Athena Akrami, group leader at the UCL Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, who will be talking to us about her research on rat Parametric Working Memory and the role of the posterior parietal cortex. Please join us on April 29th, at the Sherrington Library, located in the Sherrington Building of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Parks Road, Oxford.


Dr Athena Akrami has kindly agreed to meet students and staff individually. If you would like to arrange a meeting please contact Diego under: diego.asua [at] bnc.ox.ac.uk


Please also join us at the pub after the talk to which everybody is welcome!



Earlier proposals that PPC supports working memory predict that optogenetic silencing of the PPC would lead to a behavioral impairment in our working memory task. Contrary to this prediction, silencing PPC produced a significant performance improvement. Quantitative analyses of behavior revealed that this improvement was due to the selective reduction of the effects of prior sensory stimuli. Electrophysiological recordings showed that PPC neurons carried far more information about sensory stimuli of previous trials than about stimuli of the current trial. Furthermore, an increase in the amount of this information was associated with greater behavioral effects of sensory history, suggesting a tight link between behavior and PPC representations of stimulus history. Lastly, encoding of the sensory history in PPC was contrasted with striatum and frontal pre-motor areas in a series of decision making tasks. Together, the data reveal the PPC as a causally necessary and important node in the representation and use of prior sensory stimulus information.

Seminar: Dr Michael Lohse

Emerging Scientists Series

Contextualised auditory processing in subcortical circuits

Friday 26 April, 12pm at the Sherrington Library, DPAG Sherrington Building, Oxford


The Cortex Club is excited to start off its new ‘Emerging Scientists’ Series with Dr Michael Lohse from the Auditory Neuroscience Group at DPAG, Oxford, who recently passed his DPhil viva.

Please join us on April 26th, at the Sherrington Library, located in the Sherrington Building of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Parks Road, Oxford.

The talk will be supplemented with free pizza and is open to all!



This new seminar series will provide a platform for final year or recently graduated students to present their data and share their discoveries with Oxford’s Neuroscience community. If you would like to be considered as a speaker, get in touch under cortex.club [at] studentclubs.ox.ac.uk



Sensory events are always embedded within a specific context and it is well established that their representations in sensory cortex are highly context dependent. Cortical responses are modulated by motor commands, other sensory cues, cognitive demands, and the statistics of the environment. However, some of these contextual influences found in cortex could be inherited from subcortical processing levels. In recent years, the thalamus has received renewed interest, and several studies have suggested that sensory processing at this level may also be context dependent, often guided by cortico-thalamic feedback. However, the range of contextual influences on thalamus and other subcortical structures is poorly understood, as are the circuits needed to implement such contextualisation of subcortical sensory processing. In my talk I will present results from my DPhil work where I have asked whether two fundamental aspects of context-dependent processing found in the auditory cortex–multisensory integration and adaptation to stimulus statistics – also occur subcortically, and what the underlying neural circuits might be. Firstly, I will demonstrate using mice that the auditory thalamus as a whole is influenced by somatosensory information in diverse, but pathway-specific ways, with primary auditory cortex inheriting signals from the thalamus that are divisively scaled by somatosensory whisker stimulation. I will show that this is dependent on a primary somatosensory corticofugal projection and implemented via neurons in the higher order auditory midbrain receiving input from somatosensory cortex and providing somatosensory inhibitory signals to auditory thalamus. Furthermore, I will demonstrate the presence of a parallel direct cortico-thalamic pathway from primary somatosensory cortex to the medial sector of auditory thalamus, which is capable of driving spiking activity and facilitating auditory responses. Secondly, I will show that auditory contrast adaptation is present in the auditory midbrain and thalamus, as well as the cortex, and that this computation is gradually stabilised with each ascending processing level, with implications for perceptual acuity. Furthermore, I find that contrast adaptation in subcortical structures can be implemented without the need for corticofugal feedback, revealing an extensive, purely subcortical role in he implementation of this important feature of sensory processing. Together, these results reveal a previously underappreciated role for subcortical structures in implementing several contextual neural principles often assumed to require cortical circuitry.