Neurons in a specific part of the brain, called the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC), generate signals that are important for telling the rest of the brain where we are. Because location signals are well characterised they are a good model for understanding cognitive processes at a cellular level.
Nevertheless, progress from observing location signals to understanding the mechanisms that generate them is hindered by the complexity of the layered organisation of the cortex, limited availability of tools for manipulating specific cell populations and difficulty in separating the influence of spatial and self-motion signals.
Prof Matt Nolan and his team propose experimental approaches to overcome these challenges. In doing so they will focus on two key populations of nerve cells in different layers of the MEC.
The goals are to delineate how these neurons interact with one another, and to investigate their activity and roles in encoding locations and influencing behaviours.
The results will advance understanding of the relationship between cellular signalling and neural computation in the MEC in particular, and in cognitive circuits in general. Further findings will also inform understanding of disorders affecting specific layers of the MEC, including Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and epilepsy, and may also benefit design of devices for artificial navigation.