Toward Computational Neuroscience of Global Brains

Neural pathways are composed of hundreds, thousands, or millions of neurons. Yet, much of our understanding of the brain comes from recordings of the electrical activity of one or a few neurons at a time. A deeper understanding requires experimental and theoretical investigations of entire neural pathways, or, ideally, entire brains. We propose to take advantage of recent technology that allows recording of brain-wide neuronal activity in larval zebra fish. We will analyze the activity of entire neuronal pathways distributed across the fish brain while the fish orients itself within complex visual scenes, and also monitor the ongoing activity of neurons when the fish is at rest. An important part of this project is to develop methods for modeling brain function at multiple spatial and temporal scales. That is, we will construct theoretical and computational models that can account for the neural activity of small or large groups of neurons as they change rapidly or slowly over time.  Through collaboration among multiple labs we aim to accomplish three goals. First, we will collect and synthesize anatomical and physiological data of single neurons and the connections among them. Second, we will build, analyze, and simulate neural circuits. Third, we will simulate new visual stimuli and behaviors to help design new experiments. Our lab will focus on developing models and analytical methods, the lab of Florian Engert of Harvard University will design the experiments and collect the data, and the lab of Daniel Lee of the University of Pennsylvania will apply sophisticated techniques from computer science to simulate brain circuits and zebra fish behavior. Our research will provide new ideas and tools that will not only be applicable to zebra fish, but to large scale recordings of neuronal activity in the brains of other organisms.

Haim Sompolinsky, Harvard University

Florian Engert, Harvard University

Daniel Lee, University of Pennsylvania