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Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour

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Murray Group

Circuits for sensory-motor transformation
Andrew Murray

Andy Murray
Senior Research Fellow 
email: a.murray@ucl.ac.uk
tel: +44 20 3108 8016

Research Area
The major role of the brain is to interpret information from its surroundings in order to generate goal-directed and coherent movement. The nervous system has several different sensory modalities at its disposal, each informing about different aspects of the environment. How do neural circuits in the nervous system interpret all of this sensory information in order to generate appropriate motor commands? To address this, our lab is focused on the vestibular system, a sensory system that provides information about rotation and acceleration of the head and is critical for our ability to move, balance and navigate. The vestibular system presents us with a unique experimental opportunity where we have complete control over sensory information entering the nervous system, combined with the ability to precisely measure the system’s output, or motor commands. We investigate the brainstem and spinal circuits that are involved in vestibulo-motor behaviours with the belief that information gained from these circuits will yield important insights into how the brain processes sensory information more generally. 

Research Topics

Section through the medulla of the mouse brain. Vestibular sensory neurons and their postsynaptic targets are labelled in green. Cholinergic neurons in red.

The brain is constantly bombarded with information from different modalities of sensory organs. Some of this sensory information will be more accurate and important than others, but this will vary depending on the environmental context that you find yourself in. But how does the brain select for a particular stream of sensory information at any given moment? How do we ignore imprecise sensory information in favour of attending to a modality that maybe more accurate?  And how do we distinguish between our own effects on our sensory systems and those coming from the external environment?

Image of the lumbar spinal cord with motor neurons labelled in red. A modified rabies virus has been used to identify spinal neurons that have are directly connected to motor neurons (green).

To begin to answer some of these questions we study how neural circuits in the brainstem and spinal cord process vestibular sensory information in order to generate motor behaviours. We employ a series of approaches ranging from molecular-genetic targeting of neuronal subtypes, viral tracing, optogenetics, electrophysiology, motor behavioural assays and EMG recordings. We work with mice because of their experimental and genetic tractability, as well as well as their impressive repertoire of complex motor behaviours. 

Central to our goal of understanding vestibular-motor behaviour is the availability of tools for the targeting, manipulation and mapping of neural circuits. Our lab therefore also develops new viral technologies that allow us to map the connections between neurons as well as monitor and manipulate their activity. It is our hope that the technology developed in our lab will aid both in our goal of understanding sensory-motor circuits, as well as being valuable to the wider neuroscience community.

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Selected Publications