[Comp-neuro] PHD position call for candidates: Models of the Sensory Switch, GNT, ENS Paris

Boris boris.gutkin at gmail.com
Tue Apr 6 21:20:26 CEST 2010

Highly qualified candidates are sought for the following doctoral  

Discovering the Mechanisms of the Developmental Sensory Switch.

GNT, Group for Neural Theory
website : www.gnt.ens.fr
PhD Supervisor
Boris Gutkin
email : boris.gutkin at ens.fr

More information is available at:

Deadline for applications: 30 April 2010.

Subjects / Tools-Methodologies
1 : computational neuroscience/dynamical systems
2 : dynamical systems/statistical theory
3 : biomathematics/computer simulations

Summary of lab's interests

The Group for Neural Theory was founded in 2005 as part of the  
Départment d'Etudes Cognitives (DEC) at the Ecole Normale Supérieure  
(ENS) in Paris. Since January 2009, we are also affiliated with the  
INSERM Unité 960 (Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives). Our main  
research goal is to understand the basis of information processing in  
the brain by identifying links between neural dynamics and neural  
function. To that end, we investigate a broad range of topics in  
computational neuroscience, including models of probabilistic  
inference, feature integration, and statistical learning in neuronal  
architectures; models of drug addiction; models of spiking and non- 
spiking recurrent networks; models of short-term memory and decision- 
making; spike-based learning algorithms; short-term synaptic  
plasticity; among others.

Summary of project

During development the cerebral cortex uses the activity patterns of  
its afferents to inform circuit construction. This activity is  
generated spontaneously in afferent structures (such as retinal or  
spinal chord) during early development, but in response to sensory  
stimuli during the later period. This developmental shift from  
‘internal’ to ‘externally’ driven activity is accomplished not only  
through changes in peripheral sense organs, but also by changes in the  
cortical networks that transmit sensory information. In the visual  
system this shift occurs at eye opening in rodents, but at birth in  
human infants. Before birth, activity in cortex is characterized by a  
complex of characteristics that constitute a unique state, most  
prominently: (1) long duration silent periods and (2) response to  
sensory input with long-duration bursts consisting of rapid  
oscillations and large-amplitude slow waves. Such bursting is  
essential for the transmission of potentially weak spontaneous  
activity during early development, but is also detrimental for the  
sensory processing required of a functional system. The transition  
from this immature super-bursting mode to adult-like sensory  
processing occurs a rapid shift between states. This shift is  
experience independent and is tied to the integration of cortical  
circuits into attentional networks. Its timing however is sensory- 
system specific and timed to the beginnings of active sensory  
exploration within each modality. How such a rapid transition between  
cortical states can be caused by developing neuronal properties that  
develop along a more extended time-scale is an important question that  
is critical to our understanding of activity regulation during  
development and in disease states. The doctoral project will consist  
of developing a mechanistic models of the switch. We will work on the  
hypothesis that the fast switch is due to continuous developmental  
changes in cortical properties. Such a switch can be viewed as a  
functional bifurcation. The doctoral student will develop models of  
the switch conceptually based on principles of symmetry breaking and  
pattern formation. Such models have been successfully used to explain  
orientation preferences in primary visual neurons, formation of  
direction preference maps and visual halluciations. We will build on  
the mathematics of symmetry breaking to construct models of the  
sensory switch. We will explore how the changes in the structural  
properties of cortical sensory networks, in the cellular and synaptic  
properties, can lead to the all-or-none switch in its function and the  
on-going activity. The fellow will be supervised by Boris Gutkin (GNT,  
ENS) and will work in close collaboration with the team of R Khazipov  
at INMED (Marseille). Potential collaboration with Prof. P. Bressloff  
(U Oxford) may be developed.

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