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Running period: 
2017 to 2019

Fluorescence imaging is a widely-used technique in the life sciences and has been applied to the study of cell division, in vivo tumour growth, but also networks in the brain in action comprising thousands of neurons. Despite this whidely use, most neuroscience research to date has relied on animal models under controlled conditions that preclude the study of large-scale brain activity during naturalistic free-roaming behaviours. Because of this our understanding of how brain networks function in models of social interaction, psychiatric disorders and motor dysfunction has been limited. Furthermore, the impact of epigenetic and environmental factors on behaviour in health and disease have not been addressed due to technological constraints of tethered recordings. A better understanding of how environmental factors affect brain function related to stress, sleep quality and mental well-being would have clear societal benefits, but require novel, accessible and cost-efficient tools in neuroscience. 

The goal of this project is to develop such tools by enabling both optical stimulation and imaging of large-scale cellular-resolution brain activity in small animals (birds and rodents) during naturalistic behaviour. Cable-free miniscopes will permit new types of research. It would become possible for the first time to 1) track social interactions in rodents and birds while performing cellular-resolution read-out and stimulation of the brain networks that are recruited during such interactions, 2) monitor the neural circuits involved in reward behaviour and depression during free-roaming behaviour, 3) study the impact of neurodegeneration on motor-function and cognition, 4) study how ecological and epigenetic factors shape brain function.

The latter question will be highlighted in this research collaboration between the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN-KNAW) and the Netherlands Institute for Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). Together the NIN-KNAW and NIOO-KNAW, will focus on the underlying brain states associated with individual differences in personality and social interaction in the great tit (Parus major). We will study these unfold during various behaviours focusing on executive function and the decision-making areas of the avian brain, e.g. the nidopallium.

Theme: 

Ecological Epigenetics

Funding

KNAW onderzoeksfonds

Research team

Tycho Hoogland (NIN-KNAW)