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Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Colin Lever

Colin Lever’s research focuses on neurophysiology underlying the functions of the hippocampal formation (e.g. spatial memory, anxiety). During his Christopherson/Knott fellowship he will be setting up an optogenetics lab, combining electrophysiological multi-site recording of multiple single neurons, and pharmacology, with laser stimulation of particular sets of neurons.

Optogenetics is a recent technique conferring precise spatial and temporal control of specific groups of neurons. It relies on optical (laser) stimulation of neurons genetically modified to be light-sensitive. The light is delivered by laser relayed along an optic fibre, which can then activate or silence the neurons, depending on the expression of particular surface proteins, and the light’s wavelength. Stimulation can be delivered very precisely to particular groups of neurons at precise times, including deeply-located neurons well below the skull/pial surface. Arguably, Optogenetics is the most powerful advance in neuroscience of the last 20-30 years.

Optogenetics has wide potential to be implemented alongside other techniques. Dr Lever’s laboratory currently employs electrophysiological multi-site recording of multiple single neurons in freely behaving rats. E.g. it can simultaneously record the firing of 60 individual neurons, and measure the precise millisecond timing of their firing relative to dominant brain waves (e.g. hippocampal theta) and to behaviour (spatial position, running speed, novelty responses), and observe how features change after drug injection.

Together with his collaborators at UCL, Dr Lever has been conducting Optogenetics experiments. During the Christopherson Knott Fellowship he will set up the Optogenetics capability within his own laboratory at Durham and combine it with electrophysiological recording. The combination of the two techniques will offer world-leading innovation and insight. It will greatly enhance the Durham biological research base, with potential for fundamental and therapeutic advances.

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