SLMS Academic Careers Office

27. Forming a sensory map: the role of auditory and visual cues in the hippocampal representation of space

Supervisor Pair: Jennifer Bizley and Daniel Bendor
Potential Student’s Home Department: Ear Institute

The hippocampus plays an important role in encoding new episodic memories. In rodents, neurons in the hippocampus are tuned to the animal’s location in space, commonly referred to as a place field. This suggests that the animal’s location in space is the general organizing principle by which episodic memories are stored in the brain. However, one major consideration when interpreting these data is that unlike humans, rodents rely predominately on smell and touch (through their whiskers) for sensing the world. Both smell and touch are proximal senses, differing from the distal senses of auditory and vision that are more crucial spatial navigation cues for primates and predatory species. Thus the representation of space by place fields in rodents could be a consequence of proximal sensation, which ties their sensory world to their immediate location. Whether the representation of space differs in species relying on distal senses (audition and vision) is not known. We will study the hippocampus in the ferret, which unlike the rodent relies on distal sensation (vision and audition) to navigate. We will examine how the animal’s spatial location, along with auditory and visual cues drive hippocampal responses, allowing us to evaluate what aspects of our current rodent-based model of hippocampal function is generalizable to other species. Since the rodent is commonly used as a model for studying hippocampal function and dysfunction in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, such an evaluation will have immediate impact. This project will generate novel data about the representation of auditory and visual cues in the hippocampus and how their representation underlies sensory learning and memory.

This project offers a unique opportunity to study how the integration of sensory cues within the hippocampus underpins memory formation within the mammalian brain. The student will learn state-of-the-art in vivo recording techniques (multi-tetrode recordings from hippocampus and auditory cortex), behavioural testing techniques and computational neuroscience methods.