Addressing the brain’s complexity

In the Scott Lab, we are interested in the workings of the brain at the level of cells and circuits.  We aim to understand how sensory stimuli are perceived and processed in the brain, and how the brain then interprets these stimuli to produce adaptive behaviours.

Because of the brain’s extraordinary complexity, these questions are difficult to address by looking at individual cells.  The flow of information through the brain relies on the coordinated activity of thousands or millions of cells, and on ensembles of neurons that are active simultaneously.  For this reason, our research involves imaging activity in thousands of cells, and seeking salient patterns of activity across these populations.  In a range of projects, we characterise the neurons and circuits that respond to various visual, auditory, and vestibular stimuli; that play a role in the integration of information from these modalities; and that filter sensory information to produce behaviour.

Optogenetics in zebrafish

We work in the zebrafish model system because of its strengths in genetics, behaviour, microscopy, and optogenetics.  Specifically, we use transgenic techniques to express genetically encoded calcium indicators (GECIs) or optogenetic proteins in specific parts of the zebrafish brain.  We then use selective plane illumination microscopy (SPIM) to observe the GECIs, which reveal activity across our cells and circuits.  We also use optical physics to produce holograms in the brain for optogenetics in our larval fish.  Find more details about our methods, including our house-built SPIM microscopes.

Circuits neuroscience

From a broad perspective, this work is part of a burgeoning field of circuits neuroscience. Over the coming decades, neuroscientists will make the leap from understanding how regions of the brain function to describing, in concrete terms, the cellular circuits that underlie perception and behaviour.  Our group hopes to contribute to this effort, specifically in describing how the senses work, how the brain produces a coherent representation of the outside world, and how information from the outside world is translated into appropriate actions.