Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour



Brain mapping

We still lack a coherent conceptual framework for understanding how activity in the brain’s circuits generates and controls a rich repertoire of instinctive and adaptive behaviours. The research at SWC will focus on the following hard challenges:

  1. To understand the circuits and computations generating sensory, spatial and abstract representations, and how these representations inform behavioural decisions.
  2. To understand the circuits and computations underlying cognitive control of behaviour, in relation to volition, decisions, plans and actions.
  3. To understand how the operation of these circuits is influenced by learning and expectation, and by environmental, internal, and social context. 

The general approach will be to provide explanations of neural circuit function spanning multiple neural scales, informed experimentally by (i) identification of the computations performed by neural circuits that generate neural representations for perception, expectations, decisions and resulting behaviours; (ii) mapping these computations onto the neural hardware: network motifs comprising diverse cell types that differ in patterns of input connections and output projections, and integrative properties; (iii) determining the mechanisms by which these circuits and resulting computations are shaped by genes, learning and experience. The main long-term objective of this multidisciplinary approach will be to generate new theories that relate activity in identified neural circuits and constituent elements to different aspect of behaviour. This will be made possible by a close interaction between experiment and theory (collaboration with the GCNU). 

This multi-scale approach requires methods to identify, label, manipulate and record large populations of interacting neurons in multiple brain regions during behaviour. This will be achieved through the application of state of the art methods including two-photon and wide-field imaging, multi-electrode and whole-cell recordings, genetics and single-cell transcriptional profiling, anatomy and connectomics, optogenetics and pharmacogenetics, quantitative behavioural methods and real-time brain-computer interfaces. These methods will not only identify and dissect the circuits involved in particular behaviours, but also test their necessity and sufficiency to establish causal links.

We host a diverse group of scientists from different disciplines  including computation, physics and chemistry, all working to progress our understanding of how behaviour is generated from the complex patterns and properties of neurons.

Studies using laboratory mice and rats are essential to helping us understand the way the brain is organised and how it functions. Read more about our use of animals in research at the SWC.

The first research groups have moved into the Centre and research operations have commenced. We have 10 research groups with potential to grow to 14 research groups. Below are the group leaders; click on their names to read more about their research area: