The modulation of sensory perception by the prefrontal cortex

The brain has many areas specialised for specific functions, which must communicate with one another to generate an internal representation of our surrounding environment.

It is therefore not surprising that disruptions to brain connectivity are the basis of many neuropathological diseases.

The prefrontal cortex exerts ‘top-down’ control of many cortical areas during complex emotional and cognitive behavior. This modulatory information courses through the upper layers of the cortex and synapses onto pyramidal neuron dendrites within the superficial cortical layers. Therefore, understanding prefrontal communication requires detailed knowledge of how cortical dendrites process this top-down information.

This project will combine multiple state-of-the-art techniques including two-photon microscopy, patch-clamp electrophysiology and optogenetics (light to control neurons) in vivo to probe the influence of the prefrontal cortex on sensory perception.

Specifically, the influence of prefrontal cortex communication on the activity of pyramidal neurons within the somatosensory cortex will be investigated during non-noxious sensory stimulation. The distal dendrites of cortical pyramidal neurons generate large NMDA-dependent voltage events, termed NMDA spikes, in response to sensory stimulation. The generation of these NMDA spikes are extremely important in neuronal response to sensory input and therefore whether prefrontal cortical activity modulates their generation and leads to changes in sensory perception will be investigated.

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Professor Lucy Palmer

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