Nelson Spruston wants to understand how the properties of individual neurons contribute to the computational performance of neural circuits controlling cognition and behavior. His lab has focused on how the structurally and molecularly elaborate dendritic trees integrate thousands of synaptic inputs to generate action potential firing in the axon, and how the axon itself performs surprisingly sophisticated integrative functions.
Neuronal Diversity in the Hippocampus
The hippocampus is a brain structure that is crucial for learning and memory as well as spatial navigation. To understand how the hippocampus accomplishes these functions, a detailed knowledge of the structure-function relationship of microcircuits and single cells is required. A major effort is underway in the Spruston lab to study the cellular diversity of the principal neurons (i.e., excitatory projecting neurons) in this structure. Using a range of techniques, including molecular genetics, RNA sequencing, in situ hybridization, anatomical pathway tracing, electrophysiology, and morphological analysis, the lab is determining the diversity of molecular, structural, and functional properties of several types of hippocampal neurons.
Recently, the lab developed software that makes it possible for large numbers of neurons to be reconstructed in detail. Using neurons that have been stained following patch-clamp recordings in hippocampal slices, the software facilitates a semi-automatic reconstruction procedure resulting in accurate and detailed morphological reconstructions of each neuron's soma, axon, and dendritic tree. These reconstructions can be used for quantitative analysis of dendritic branching patterns as well as detailed computational modeling.
We are seeking an EXROP student to assist with these studies. The student’s primary role would be to acquire high-resolution three-dimensional images of stained neurons, perform semi-automated reconstructions, and analyze cellular morphologies. Additionally, opportunities exist to learn about other techniques used in the lab and to participate in regular group meetings to discuss experimental data obtained using the range of techniques described previously. Moreover, students will gain exposure to leading-edge research in neuroscience and imaging in the uniquely collaborative atmosphere at Janelia Farm.