Larry Abbott, Ph.D. Columbia University
How do complex patterns of activity in large populations of neurons gain meaning and guide behavior? This question can be addressed in the olfactory systems of fruit flies and mice because, in both of these organisms, odors are represented randomly in key olfactory circuits: the mushroom body in flies and the piriform cortex in mice. These random representations have no inherent meaning, and thus meaning must be imposed through learning. Study of these systems will involve extensive collaboration between experimental and theoretical researchers. The experimental work will make use of genetic techniques for visualizing and manipulating neural activity. The theoretical work will involve building models to test hypotheses arising from the data and providing predictions that lead to further experimentation. The goal of these studies is to illuminate how initially arbitrary patterns of neural activity gain mean through experience-dependent learning.