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Funders:
The Wellcome Trust
Recipients:
University College London
Currency:
GBP
Award Year:
2016

Results

Unravelling the molecular complexity behind ocular maldevelopment 06 Dec 2016

Aim: Investigating the relationship between genotype, gene expression and phenotype of microphthalmia, anophthalmia and ocular coloboma (MAC), which collectively causes one-third of life-long blindness and severe visual impairment in children worldwide. Research questions: What are the pathogenic variants underlying MAC? How do molecular subtypes correlate with phenotype and stratify clinical risk? What molecular pathways are involved in human eye development? What is the relationship between genotype and gene expression in microphthalmia? Key goals and methodology: Whole genome sequencing of 30 parent-offspring trios with isolated MAC and longitudinal phenotyping. Establish an international reference network to stratify a well-defined cohort to improve care pathways and future research. Temporal comparative analysis of DNA methylome (bisulfite conversion and Illumina Infinium EPIC BeadChips) and transcriptome (65 million reads per sample using Illumina HiSeq-2500) in the developing human eye between 4-9 weeks gestation. Model 3D human microphthalmic optic cups using iPSC technology with isogenic controls using CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing. DNA methylome and transcriptome analysis to assess disruption of molecular pathways. Outcomes: Establish a molecular framework for ocular maldevelopment. Identify drug targets and develop therapeutics. Improve genetic diagnosis, counselling and management. Elucidate shared molecular mechanisms between embryonic tissue fusion defects and late-onset visual sensory disorders.

Amount: £1,133,875
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Using visual dysfunction to understand dementia in Parkinson’s disease 06 Dec 2016

Dementia affects half of patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) but there are no robust measures to predict who is at highest risk. Visual hallucinations are highly distressing to patients and carers but are poorly understood. This Fellowship will use visuo-perceptual dysfunction to predict dementia and understand hallucinations in PD. I have developed a novel test using skewed images to detect visuo-perceptual deficits in Parkinson’s patients. I have also developed a web-based platform to enable this and other visual tests to be accessed by large numbers of patients with PD. In this proposal I will use visual perceptual tests combined with neuroimaging over time to determine the sequence of visuo-perceptual deficits in PD. I will relate these to changes in hallucinations. I will use my web-based platform to identify clinical and genetic associations with visual deficits and determine their role in predicting dementia in PD. Goals 1. Characterise changes in visuo-perception as PD progresses and correlate deficits with brain atrophy. 2. Relate MRI structural connectivity changes with disease progression. 3. Examine clinical and genetic associations of visual dysfunction in PD. 4. Test whether transcranial stimulation can improve visuo-perceptual function in PD. 5. Determine how visual hallucinations become distressing as PD advances.

Amount: £1,223,282
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Transforming brain recordings with next-generation probes 30 Nov 2016

Thanks to the Wellcome Trust and other leading international institutions, we have developed and proved the viability of a new generation of recording probes that will transform electrophysiology. These "Neuropixels" probes transcend past approaches, recording hundreds to thousands of neurons simultaneously. Several key steps are now necessary to maximize the impact of this new technology, enabling its widespread use in the neuroscience community. We must develop radically new recording equipment and software, provide training, and build a collaborative community of users (Aim 1). To allow this community to fully exploit the potential of this technology, we must extend it to a larger range of applications: multi-shank probes, wireless recording for freely moving animals, and optrodes for use with optogenetics (Aim 2). Meanwhile, we will obtain ground-truth data to calibrate error rates, and begin the development of a tool to automatically identify brain regions based on electrophysiological characteristics (Aim 3). This project integrates software and hardware engineering, fabrication efforts, neurophysiology tests, and behavioral and anatomical techniques. It thus requires a collaboration between laboratories with different skill sets, and a unique nanoelectronics research partner, IMEC. The results of this collaboration will transform the field of neuroscience.

Amount: £2,287,189
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Transforming brain recordings with next-generation probes 30 Nov 2016

Thanks to the Wellcome Trust and other leading international institutions, we have developed and proved the viability of a new generation of recording probes that will transform electrophysiology. These "Neuropixels" probes transcend past approaches, recording hundreds to thousands of neurons simultaneously. Several key steps are now necessary to maximize the impact of this new technology, enabling its widespread use in the neuroscience community. We must develop radically new recording equipment and software, provide training, and build a collaborative community of users (Aim 1). To allow this community to fully exploit the potential of this technology, we must extend it to a larger range of applications: multi-shank probes, wireless recording for freely moving animals, and optrodes for use with optogenetics (Aim 2). Meanwhile, we will obtain ground-truth data to calibrate error rates, and begin the development of a tool to automatically identify brain regions based on electrophysiological characteristics (Aim 3). This project integrates software and hardware engineering, fabrication efforts, neurophysiology tests, and behavioral and anatomical techniques. It thus requires a collaboration between laboratories with different skill sets, and a unique nanoelectronics research partner, IMEC. The results of this collaboration will transform the field of neuroscience.

Amount: £1,674,199
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Analysis of cytomegalovirus pathogenesis in a human challenge system 30 Nov 2016

Our research has made major contributions to understanding the natural history and pathogenesis of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) in allograft recipients. Critically, we have demonstrated that biomarkers can be applied to stratify patients most at risk of HCMV disease and thus inform clinical practice to reduce HCMV end-organ disease. This clinical approach of administration of antivirals to individuals with elevated viraemia above designated levels provides a unique opportunity to gain fundamental insight into disease processes in a human challenge model of HCMV infection. A multi-disciplinary consortium has been recruited to apply next generation DNA sequencing, molecular virology and functional immunological assays to identify virus and host cell determinants of disease susceptibility. Whole genome sequencing of virus in organ donors (live and cadaveric) and recipients will be used to track the source, replication kinetics and evolution of HCMV strains in seronegative and seropositive recipients. We will then define in vitro humoral, cell-mediated immunity and natural killer responses against HCMV that correlate with protective immunity against primary infection, reinfection and reactivation in these patient groups. This approach has the potential to provide unique insights into the natural history and pathogenesis of HCMV and identify innovative therapeutic approaches against it.

Amount: £2,669,767
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Overcoming constraints on T cells in the HBV-infected liver 05 Dec 2016

My request for enhancement funding arises from the component of my existing award focused on developing T cell immunotherapy of hepatitis B and hepatocellular carcinoma using patient samples. We recently made important contributions to the testing of genetically redirected T cells for a first-in-man treatment of HBV-related hepatocellular carcinoma1. We are also collaborating with academic and pharmaceutical partners to develop immunotherapeutic vaccines aiming to boost antiviral T cells for hepatitis B control. However, these approaches remain limited by the profound exhaustion and other immune constraints imposed on T cells by high-level antigenic stimulation in the tolerogenic liver. Front-line candidates to revive T cells are checkpoint inhibitors such as PD-1 blockade. However, we have found that genetic knockdown of PD-1 can initiate detrimental effects in virus-specific T cells (Fig.1). The emerging concept that PD- 1 may actually be required to support long-term maintenance of T cells in the setting of persistent antigenic stimulation is underscored by recent work in murine models2, 3 and by our finding that liver-resident PD-1+T cells can remain highly functional (Pallett, in preparation). These discoveries underscore the need to investigate more fundamental drivers and mediators of T cell failure as alternatives or additions to checkpoint inhibition.

Amount: £175,008
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Advancing Psychiatric Mapping Translated into Innovations for Care: PsyMaptic-A 05 Dec 2016

My current and previous Wellcome Trust Fellowships (Henry Wellcome, 2009-13; Henry Dale 2014- present) focus on important aetiological questions about psychotic disorders, using epidemiological data. Psychotic disorders are a debilitating set of mental health disorders, characterised by hallucinations, delusions and cognitive deficits. My research demonstrates that these disorders have a robust, replicable social aetiology, with higher incidence rates observed in young people,1–3 men,1–3 ethnic minorities2–7 and people exposed to greater social disadvantage.8–11 In my previous fellowship, I established the largest epidemiological study of first episode psychosis [FEP] in England since 1999, to demonstrate that these substantial mental health inequalities also exist in more rural populations (East Anglia)3,12; rates are over twice as high as expected,3,13 with deprived rural communities experiencing the highest psychosis incidence. This study has generated new Page 5 of 18 aetiological clues, for example by showing that people at "ultra-high risk" of psychosis are exposed to similar social and spatial markers of social disadvantage as FEP patients,14 implicating an aetiological role for social adversities prior to onset. I have also demonstrated that migrants face greatest FEP risk when immigrating in childhood,15 an important period of sociocognitive development. I am attempting to replicate this in my current Fellowship, in a larger longitudinal cohort using Swedish national register data. Using this data, I have already shown that refugees are at elevated psychosis risk compared with other migrants from the same region of origin,7 providing further insights into the possible social determinants of psychosis. Epidemiological data can also inform mental health service planning. In England, Early Intervention in Psychosis [EIP] services assess and treat people with suspected FEP, offering evidence-based multidisciplinary care to improve downstream clinical and social outcomes, shown to be highly costeffective.16 Unfortunately, original policy implementation guidance17 made no provision for the heterogeneity in incidence described above, with services commissioned on a uniform expectation of 15 new cases per 100,000 people-per-year. This was at least half the true incidence,1,3 and over three times lower than the overall referral rate for all suspected FEP, including "false positive" (nonFEP) referrals,3 who still require appropriate psychiatric triage and signposting, and consume additional EIP resources not factored into original guidance. In response, I demonstrated that epidemiological estimates of psychosis risk could be used to better predict the expected FEP incidence in the population at-risk in England,13 nationally and regionally. The tool, known as PsyMaptic, has had substantial impact on policy and commissioning since it was freely-released in 2012 (www.psymaptic.org).16,18–22 Most recently, it has been used to inform national EIP workforce calculations23 following the introduction of Access and Waiting time standards,19 as part of the Department of Health’s commitment to achieving parity of esteem between mental and physical health by 2020.24 Whilst I have demonstrated, via PsyMaptic, that it is possible to translate epidemiological data into effective public mental health,25 some vital methodological limitations require empirical attention. I therefore seek Wellcome Trust enhancement funding to answer four empirical questions to develop and apply novel statistical prediction methodologies to generate sustainable, dynamic populationbased models of future mental health need.

Amount: £204,479
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Control and enzymatic activation of the APC/C ubiquitin ligase system 30 Nov 2016

CDK1 and APC/C are two key regulatory enzymes controlling the cell division, growth, differentiation and death, through phosphorylation and ubiquitylation, respectively. Although it has long been apparent that phosphorylation modifies APC/C function, the challenges posed by the need for functional assays to study this control puts the elucidation of the molecular basis of phosphorylation control beyond our grasp. We have recently overcome these limitations with a pipeline that uses reconstituted recombinant APC/C in Xenopus cell free extracts to show how CDK1 activates the APC/C through coordinated phosphorylation of Apc3 and Apc1. We will now extend this pipeline with targeted assays that will determine how phosphatases regulate these phosphorylation events. Because we have found that the disordered loop domains of APC/C subunits are targets for both post-translational modifications (PTMs) and interacting partners, including protein phosphatases, we will study how the loop domain controls the APC/C. Cell cycle specific and stress-dependent PTMs and binding proteins will be identified and we will determine their impact upon APC/C-dependent ubiquitylation. This approach of combining high throughput reconstitution mutated apo-APC/C in extracts from which any component of interest can be depleted offers a unique opportunity to gain an unprecedented insight into APC/C function and control.

Amount: £1,547,248
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Endothelial cell behaviours in vascular health and disease 30 Nov 2016

At the interface between blood and tissues, vascular endothelial cells (ECs) provide signalling hubs for vascular adaptation to physiological needs. Quiescent ECs form a non-thrombotic surface that facilitates the exchange of gases, molecules and cells between blood and tissues, but they respond to hypoxia-induced signals with vascular expansion and regulate leukocyte extravasation in response to injury. Our unpublished observations indicate that the cell surface receptor neuropilin 1 (NRP1) relays signals from the extracellular environment to the endothelial nucleus to enable such context-dependent responses. Thus, we hypothesise that NRP1 integrates growth factor and extracellular matrix signalling with gene transcription programmes to balance EC behaviours that enable vascular growth and to prevent the senescent and proinflammatory endothelial phenotype common to many chronic diseases. To determine how vascular growth and homeostasis depend on NRP1-mediated pathways, we will investigate novel mechanisms by which NRP1 conveys signals for tissue vascularisation, protects ECs from premature senescence and regulates gene transcription for vascular growth and homeostasis. The knowledge gained will significantly advance our understanding of how extracellular signals are integrated with gene regulation to control EC behaviour, and will likely uncover pathways for therapeutic intervention in diseases with vascular dysfunction.

Amount: £1,436,838
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Organization of large neuronal populations during behavior 30 Nov 2016

Behavior arises from the coordinated function of vast numbers of neurons across the brain. However, we lack answers to fundamental questions concerning this coordinated function. How is the activity of multiple brain areas globally structured? How does this global structure relate to the firing of local neuronal populations? And what is the role of this coordination in producing animal behavior? Until recently, these questions were barely answerable: one could only record from tens or hundreds of neurons, and during single behaviors. They are now answerable, thanks to new, powerful techniques available in the brain of the mouse: optical recordings of over 10,000 neurons simultaneously, optical and ultrasound measures of mesoscopic activity in multiple brain regions, next-generation electrode arrays that record thousands of neurons across multiple areas, and temporally targeted optogenetic manipulations. We will combine these techniques to understand how brain-wide neuronal populations operate in the mouse brain during different behavioral conditions: rest, passive sensory stimulation, locomotion, sensory discrimination, and goal-directed navigation. These data will provide an unprecedented view on the neuronal-level organization of populations across the brain during behavior.

Amount: £3,642,870
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

The mechanisms of photoreceptor cell death 30 Nov 2016

Problems of protein homeostasis (proteostasis) that lead to protein misfolding, improper traffic and aggregation are associated with many forms of neurodegeneration. The neurodegeneration retinitis pigmentosa (RP) offers an excellent paradigm to study why proteostasis is critical for neuronal function and survival. Rhodopsin mutations cause dominant RP and disturb proteostasis, yet the underlying disease mechanisms and effective therapies remain elusive. I will exploit recent advances in gene editing technology and stem cell biology to produce new animal and patient derived models of the most common rhodopsin mutations in the UK. I will use these to address my key goals, i) to define any common disease mechanisms between the different classes of mutation, and ii) identify new therapeutic approaches for rhodopsin RP. I will use a combination of genetic and chemical manipulation of the major cell stress and degradation pathways, and identify the partner proteins of rhodopsin mutants using unbiased proteomic analyses. These complementary studies will be based on a series of interlinked hypotheses to determine how rhodopsin mutations disturb protein homeostasis and if this can be restored. The findings will have broader implications not only for other forms of retinal degeneration, but also neurodegenerative disease where proteostasis is disturbed.

Amount: £1,529,466
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Unravelling the CTLA-4 immune checkpoint: from cell biology to clinical application. 30 Nov 2016

The CTLA-4 pathway is a key immune regulator whose absence or mutation leads to profound autoimmunity. CTLA-4 and its relative CD28 have opposing inhibitory and stimulatory functions respectively and interact with two ligands CD80 and CD86. Despite the key role of this pathway in immune regulation and high profile therapies in tumour immunology, our understanding of how CTLA-4 functionally interacts with its two natural ligands is remarkably incomplete. The aim of this proposal is to generate a robust molecular, cellular and functional framework for CTLA-4 biology which can be used to understand the impact of disease mutations, which are being identified as a result of next generation sequencing programmes, and generate knowledge which can underpin new approaches to manipulation of this key immune axis. We will address three key aims: 1). What is the cellular machinery used by CTLA-4 to capture and transfer ligands between cells? 2). How do CTLA-4 interactions with its natural ligands influence its function? 3). How do clinically identified mutations inform our understanding of the CTLA-4 pathway?

Amount: £1,653,759
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (CUSSH) 06 Oct 2016

The CUSSH programme will deliver strategically vital global research on the complex systemic connections between urban development and health. Based on transdisciplinary methods, it will develop critical evidence on how to achieve the far-reaching transformation of cities needed to address vital environmental imperatives for population and planetary health in the 21st century. Its core components include: a systematic review of evidence on potential solutions; the development and application of methods for tracking the progress of cities to towards sustainability and health goals; the development and application of models to assess the impact on population health, health inequalities, socio-economic development and environmental parameters of alternative urban development strategies to support policy decisions; iterative in-depth engagements with stakeholders in partner cities in low-, middle- and high-income settings, based on participatory methods, to test and deliver the implementation of the transformative changes needed to meet local and global health and sustainability objectives. Through these steps, the project will provide transferable evidence on how to accelerate actions essential to achieving population-level changes in such areas as energy provision, transport infrastructure, green infrastructure, water and sanitation, and housing. Associated public engagement and training, based on principles of co-generation of research, will be embedded throughout.

Amount: £149,988
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Explaining Language Outcome and Recovery After Stroke (ELORAS) 30 Nov 2016

My aim is to develop a theoretical model of language processing that explains inter-patient variability in outcome after stroke. My hypotheses are that the same language task (e.g. describing a picture) can be sustained by different sets of brain regions (and neuronal pathways) and that inter-subject variability in neuronal pathways for the same language task reflect an individual’s inherent potential and prior experience. My investigations will (1) use functional neuroimaging to characterize inter-subject variability in neuronal pathways in a range of language tasks; (2) cluster healthy individuals and stroke patients into different groups according to the neural systems used for the same task; and (3) compare the identified groups on a multitude of demographic, behavioural and structural imaging measures. The results will identify the factors that distinguish which neuronal pathways a subject typically uses and which neural pathways are available to support recovery. The work will provide: (i) greater understanding of the neuronal pathways sustaining recovery; (ii) improved accuracy and precision in our prognoses for whether and when patients with aphasia will recover after stroke, and (iii) a new patient stratification system that can be used to design effective, individualised therapeutic interventions.

Amount: £2,701,886
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Partnering for Equitable STEM Pathways for Youth from Minoritized Communities. 07 Nov 2016

Minoritized Youth, addresses fundamental equity issues in informal STEM learning (SL+ priority D, Equity, diversity and access to informal learning settings). The major goal of our Partnership is for practitioners and researchers, working with minoritized youth, to develop new understandings of how and under what conditions minoritized youth participate in Informal STEM Learning (ISL) over time and across settings, and how they may connect these experiences towards pathways into STEM. We will: 1) Develop new understandings of ISL pathways that are equitable and transformative for minoritized youth; 2) Co-develop high leverage practices and tools that support these equitable and transformative ISL pathways (and the agency youth need to path-make); and 3) Strengthen and increase professional capacity to broaden participation among youth from minoritized communities in STEM through ISL. Our work is grounded in longitudinal youth participatory ethnographies, surveys, and design-based implementation research methodologies. Our major goal responds to three challenges at the intersections of ISL research and practice in the US/UK: 1) lack of shared understanding of how minoritized youth perceive and experience ISL opportunities across the US/UK, and the practices and tools needed to support empowered movement through ISL; 2) limited shared understanding and evidence of core high-leverage practices that support minoritized youth in progressing within and across ISL, and 3) limited understanding of how ISL might be equitable and transformative for minoritized youth seeking to develop their own pathways into STEM. We focus on minoritized youth, ages 11-14, for whom there are wide and persistent gaps in representation in STEM, and for whom STEM careers and pursuits remain elusive. The project will be carried out by RPPs in 4 cities: London & Bristol, UK and Lansing, MI & Portland, OR, US, involving university researchers (Kings College, University College London, Michigan State University, Oregon State University) practitioners in science museums (@Bristol Science Centre, Brent Lodge Park Animal Centre, Impressions 5, OMSI) and community-based centers (STEMettes, Knowle West Media Centre, Boys & Girls Clubs of Lansing, and Girls, Inc.).

Amount: £621,873
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Imaging and activation of glymphatic clearance: a novel strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease 26 Oct 2016

There is a critical need for early and accurate biomarkers of the pre-symptomatic phase of Alzheimer's disease (AD), to maximise the efficacy of emerging therapies. Recent evidence implicates cerebral glymphatic exchange as a key mechanism in early AD pathogenesis [Figure 1] [1-4]. I will develop the first non-invasive method for the quantitative assessment of glymphatic clearance, using MRI. These novel methods will be carefully validated by comparison with the invasive measures [5], that I have previously established, in normal, aged and AQP4 null mice. I will apply these novel techniques longitudinally to mouse models of ageing and AD (amyloid and tau) to investigate impairment of glymphatic clearance relative to more established markers of AD pathogenesis such as structural imaging, perfusion and histological assessment of plaque/tangle burden. As such, these data will be the first to elucidate the chronology of abnormal glymphatic clearance in AD pathogenesis. Finally, I will combine these methods with targeted optogenetics to assess the interaction of vessel tone and vasomotion to rates of glymphatic clearance in order to characterise the underlying mechanisms that drive CSF-ISF exchange.

Amount: £780,158
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Cellular and network mechanisms of hippocampal -prefrontal coordination during memory consolidation 09 Nov 2016

Consolidation of newly acquired memories takes place during sleep and involves the interaction of hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The cellular mechanisms and synaptic pathways underlying this process are not fully understood but it has been hypothesized that synchronous hippocampal ripples and prefrontal cortex spindles mediate it. The present project proposes a multimodal approach to investigate these mechanisms in rodents. The first goal will be to dissect the fine-scale dynamics of memory reactivation in hippocampus and cortex during sleep after learning of a spatial memory task. This aim will be achieved with simultaneous large-scale recordings in both structures and advanced analysis of population activity. The second goal will be to unveil which anatomical regions and synaptic pathways are mediating this inter-regional synchronization. Simultaneous electrophysiological and functional magnetic resonance recordings will be performed in sleeping rats before and after the task and wide-brain activity will be assessed at times of high hippocampal-prefrontal synchrony. The last goal will be to causally verify the participation in inter-areal coordination and memory consolidation of the key synaptic pathway(s) pointed out in the previous stage. To achieve this, closed-loop optogenetic silencing of specific cellular populations would be performed at times of hippocampal-prefrontal synchrony during sleep memory consolidation.

Amount: £250,000
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Molecular Control of Adhesion-Free Migration 09 Nov 2016

Many cells have the capacity of directed motion, which is essential for several physiological and pathological processes, including development, immune-response, and metastasis. During canonical, focal adhesion-based migration, actin dynamics are converted to traction force through integrin-based anchors to the substrate. However, integrins are dispensable for in vivo and 3D-confined migration of various cell types. Recently, an alternative migration mode was discovered, during which propulsion forces are generated through non-specific friction between the cell cortex and its substrate. However, nothing is known about the molecular mechanism underlying friction-driven migration. I will elucidate this process, first by performing a candidate-based screen and state-of-the-art microfabrication assays to identify the molecules responsible for generating friction. Next, I will create knock-out zebrafish lines to determine the in vivo relevance of friction-driven migration. Finally, I will study how cells transition between adhesive and adhesion-free migration, which is crucial e.g. during cancer progression. To identify the key processes underlying these transitions, I will perform live cell microscopy of friction-generating and adhesion molecules and integrate my findings into a mathematical model of cell migration. Ultimately, this project will shed light on a newly uncovered migration mode that is likely of fundamental importance for in vivo cell motility.

Amount: £250,000
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Elucidating the neural basis of active sensing in the cerebellar cortex 09 Nov 2016

The cerebellum is a core structure in sensorimotor integration, receiving converging sensory and motor input and sending output to premotor regions. It thus sits at an ideal place to determine mechanisms by which the brain transforms sensorimotor information into a code that controls behaviour. However, our understanding of how the cerebellar cortex encodes sensory inputs in the context of motor activity is far from established because most studies of sensory processing have been performed under anaesthesia when sensors are immobile. This proposed research aims to elucidate fundamental computations (i.e. neural codes) and underlying mechanisms (i.e. circuitry implementation) that govern information processing in cerebellar circuits during active sensing, both at the cellular and systems neuroscience level. What sensory and motor variables are represented in cerebellar circuits during active sensing? How sensory-motor signals are transformed within the cerebellar cortex? What neuronal mechanisms underlie sensorimotor integration in the cerebellum? I will take advantage of a well-defined sensorimotor model, the mouse whisker system, to tackle these key questions. By studying the neural basis of active sensing in the cerebellum, I hope to build an integrated model of the circuitry that incorporates a greater understanding of neuronal computations and mechanisms during behaviour.

Amount: £250,000
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Neural mechanisms linking perception to action in zebrafish prey hunting behaviour 09 Nov 2016

The ultimate goal of modern neuroscience is to understand how brain activity generates behaviour. Thus far, mainly because of technical limitations, neuroscientists have been primarily focusing their research on how the activity of single neurons or small populations of neurons encodes the representation of either sensory stimuli or motor programs. However, given the current technological advancements allowing neural recording and manipulations across brain areas, it is now impelling to start tackling this crucial biological question: how do sensory representations trigger the selection and execution of appropriate motor programs? In my proposed project I aim to provide a mechanistic, cellular-level description of how larval zebrafish execute prey hunting routines in response to defined visual stimuli. Using a wide range of cutting-edge techniques, including simultaneous behavioural monitoring while performing calcium imaging/optogenetics, I will dissect the activity dynamics and circuit mechanisms of a key neural network hub in the anterior-ventral optic tectum capable of triggering the characteristic motor output of hunting behaviour. Crucially, I will reveal how this network hub is recruited by sensory neurons and how, in turn, this hub coordinates the activity of premotor neurons in multiple brain areas, therefore shedding new light on how the brain generates actions from perceptions.

Amount: £250,000
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London