The research groups in the Department of Neurobiology employ a variety of physiological, anatomical, molecular and computational techniques to study the operation of the nervous system. The experimental approaches we use range from classical microelectrode techniques for single-cell recordings to powerful modern techniques such as two-photon microscopy, optogenetics and functional neuro-imaging. These approaches allow us to characterize the functional activity of the nervous system from the level of the single cell to the level of the system as a whole. This in turn enables us to analyze brain activity during sensation, mental activity, or motor behavior. Neuronal plasticity, which is involved in development and memory, is studied in vitro in small cultured networks and in vivo by measuring the dynamics of neurons and networks with genetically engineered florescent markers and light activation of specific neurons. The experimental approaches are complemented by theoretical and computational studies which integrate the large body of experimental data into testable hypotheses. Computational studies include the construction of models of single nerve cells and local circuits, and even whole cortical columns in mammals’ cortex. Their aim is to clarify how the properties of neurons and synapses, and specific cell morphology and connections (the “connectome”), contribute to the emergence of brain functions. Additional research projects focus on advancing future technologies and include building efficient electronic chips for achieving a better “brain- machine interface” and learning how biology can solve difficult motor-controlled tasks. Our hope is that these studies inspire the development of a new generation of robots. Many members of the Department are affiliated with the Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation (ICNC) and with the newly erected Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC).
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