Tiago Branco

Synaptic integration in circuits controlling innate behaviour

2-photon image of a neuron in an acute slice of the
hypothalamus filled with a calcium dye during a
whole-cell recording. Dendritic 2-photon glutamate
uncaging in the blue spots produces a large somatic
depolarisation and local dendritic calcium entry.

Our goal is to understand how the mouse brain implements the computations that underlie innate behaviours. We aim to provide biophysically detailed descriptions of the sequence of steps that transform input, such as the sensory clue that a predator is close by, into a behavioural output, like an escape or defensive response. In particular, we are interested in understanding how synaptic signals are integrated at different stages, and in finding what are the channels and biophysical processes that determine how signals are transformed.

We perform experiments in the mouse brain in vitro and in vivo, using whole-cell patch clamp techniques and two-photon calcium imaging to record synaptic and action potential signals from individual neurons. Synaptic input is activated in vitro using two-photon neurotransmitter uncaging and optogenetics, and by using natural stimuli in vivo. To probe the role of individual circuit elements or molecules we use genetic, chemical and optical manipulations of specific targets, such as subclasses of neurons and channel types. The consequences of these manipulations are assessed at different levels, from single neuron and network processing to behaviour. The experimental findings are complemented by computational modelling, with the aim of providing a biophysical description of signal processing, as well as abstracting the key signal transformations, in order to produce realistic network models of the circuits that control innate behaviours

Sir Henry DaleTiago is a Sir Henry Dale Fellow jointly funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society.

Currently we focus on the hypothalamic circuits that control aggressive and feeding behaviour. We are particularly interested in determining how sensory information that triggers aggressive behaviour is processed by hypothalamic neurons. In collaboration with researchers at Janelia Farm we are currently investigating how single neurons in the arcuate nucleus integrate the excitatory synaptic input that regulates feeding behaviour.

Selected Papers

Group Members

  • Zinaida Perova