Synaptic connections between neurons form the basis of how information is transmitted in the brain and how we interact with the world around us. However, because the average human brain has a whopping 10 billion neurons and each neuron can make thousands of connections with other neurons all over the brain, the circuits formed by these patterns of connections quickly become incredibly complex. Thus, the fundamental principles by which different types of neurons connect to each other are not well understood and remain to be explored. Ultimately, if we want to get a better idea of how these connections and circuits are organized, we first need to break them down into bite-size chunks and look at each individual circuit component: the synaptic connections formed between only a specific handful of cells.
My thesis work takes a closer look at circuits within the part of the brain that gives rise to vision. By experimentally manipulating the electrical activity in these circuits and seeing how the component neurons respond as a result, I’m able to get a better idea of what, how, and why these synaptic connections are organized the way they are. This will ultimately provide us with insight into how visual information is represented within the brain and facilitate uncovering principles of communication between neuronal populations. More broadly, these results will have the potential to make existing models of the brain more biologically accurate. These experiments will aid in the development of novel theories surrounding sensory information integration and the impact of fine-scale organization of neural circuits on the generation of coherent visual experience.