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MULAB (multiple unit lab)

A Brief Mission Statement

The brain of most mammals contains a staggering number of cells called neurons, whose electrical activity underlies movement, thinking, and all other types of behavior of the animal. Neurons influence the activity of a subset of the other neurons through connections known as synapses, forming networks of neurons ("neural networks"). In order to understand how the brain works, it's necessary to understand the properties of these neural networks and how they function; in other words, we need to understand how neurons work together to produce organized electrical activity, which is translated into behavior such as thoughts or movement.

One of our goals is to record the electrical activity of as many neurons as possible, particularly while the animal is engaging in some meaningful behavior. We record the action potentials ("spikes") of single units, i.e., single cells; note that this is quite different from other forms of recording, such as the electroencephalogram, as well as imaging techniques, such as PET or fMRI -- these methods gather data from huge populations of neurons at a time. Simultaneous single unit ("multiple unit") recordings are quite difficult, but the data obtained is rich in information: We can, for instance, compare the spiking activity of neurons to obtain clues about their functional connectivity, how they influence one another, and how this influence changes over time or with different behaviors.

Another goal is to design and develop analytical tools which will plumb the depths of the data obtained from multiple unit recordings. Tools such as the joint peri-stimulus time histogram and the gravity transformation (see analytical tools), developed by George Gerstein in collaboration with many colleagues around the world, enable investigators to visualize functional connectivity of neurons and draw inferences from their statistical properties.