Dr Andrew Lin
Room: B2 228 Alfred Denny building
Olfactory sensory coding and memory
Undergraduate and postgraduate taught modules
Title: Maintaining effective sensory coding in the face of inter-neuronal variation
Supervisor 1: Dr Andrew Lin
Supervisor 2: Professor Mikko Juusola and Professor Eleni Vasilaki
Funding status: Directly funded project European/UK students only
Fully funded for 4 years, the studentship covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (at least £14,553/year for 2018-2019), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. The studentship is available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements, see http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/documents/studentship-eligibility-pdf/. Students from EU countries who do not meet residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award. See also https://www.whiterose-mechanisticbiology-dtp.ac.uk/
When building a brain, you might think neurons should be wired together very precisely and accurately to ensure optimal performance. But nature is never perfect, and developmental variability is inevitable. How can neurons have consistent properties to allow effective sensory coding, in the face of this inherent inter-neuronal variability? This fundamental problem occurs across species, and we will address it in Drosophila, where ~2000 neurons called Kenyon cells encode olfactory associative memories.
To accurately distinguish learned associations for different odours, Kenyon cell population responses to odours must be decorrelated, i.e. different odours activate non-overlapping subsets of Kenyon cells. This inter-odour decorrelation requires Kenyon cells to be roughly equally excitable: if some Kenyon cells are more excitable than others, these same cells tend to dominate all odour responses, which increases overlap between odour representations. Yet recent work shows that Kenyon cells receive extremely variable amounts of excitatory input.
Our computational models suggest that this variability impairs odour decorrelation unless Kenyon cells compensate for variability along one parameter (e.g., amount of excitatory input) with counteracting variability along another parameter (e.g., spiking threshold). In this project, the student will test whether and how such compensatory variability occurs, and will computationally model how it would affect circuit function.
We seek a motivated and creative student with a strong interest in how the brain works. We welcome applications from candidates from a range of backgrounds (from biology to computer science or physics). In carrying out this interdisciplinary project, the student will learn a range of cutting-edge techniques, including multiphoton imaging, patch-clamp electrophysiology, fly genetics, and computational modelling. This research will have broad implications for how neurons develop and maintain the correct electrical and synaptic properties to effectively encode information and carry out behaviourally relevant computations.
Keywords: Bioinformatics, Biophysics, Cell Biology / Development, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience/Neurology, Zoology/Animal Science, Applied Mathematics, Data Analysis
For informal enquiries about the project or application process, please feel free to contact
To find out more about these projects and how to apply see our PhD opportunities page:
- Pavlou HJ, Lin AC, Neville MC, Nojima T, Diao F, Chen BE, White BH & Goodwin SF (2016) Neural circuitry coordinating male copulation. eLife, 5. View this article in WRRO
- Lin AC, Bygrave AM, de Calignon A, Lee T & Miesenböck G (2014) Sparse, decorrelated odor coding in the mushroom body enhances learned odor discrimination. Nature Neuroscience, 17(4), 559-568. View this article in WRRO
- Parnas M, Lin AC, Huetteroth W & Miesenböck G (2013) Odor Discrimination in Drosophila: From Neural Population Codes to Behavior. Neuron, 79(5), 932-944.
- Perisse E, Yin Y, Lin AC, Lin S, Huetteroth W & Waddell S (2013) Different Kenyon Cell Populations Drive Learned Approach and Avoidance in Drosophila. Neuron, 79(5), 945-956.