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Experience-dependent modifications of developing neural circuits and animal behaviours (zebrafish plasticity)
Start date: Jun 15, 2009, End date: Jun 14, 2013 PROJECT  FINISHED 

"During development, neuronal connectivity is initially established by genetically determined intrinsic factors, e.g. molecular cues and spontaneous activity, generating networks according to a ""best guess"" strategy. However, with the appearance of sensory organs, external inputs will refine these connections, allowing adaptation to the environment. In the Xenopus developing visual system, repetitive moving visual stimuli induce long lasting changes in the direction-sensitivity of some tectal neurons, apparently via modification of synaptic strength. However, it is still unknown how this synaptic plasticity contributes to the refinement of neural circuits for precise information processing and adjustment of animal’s behaviours. Using a multidisciplinary approach combining cutting-edge genetic engineering methods to monitor and manipulate activity of specific neurons or entire circuits, development of novel mathematical and computational methods and kinematic analyses of motor behaviours, I will investigate how sensory visual experience may affect the activity and interaction of the optic tectum neuronal circuit and motor behaviour. These experiments will contribute to our understanding of the role of sensory experience in shaping the development of neural circuits and animal behaviour. They will also shed light into the mechanisms by which the nervous system self wires, adapts, and learns. The study of these mechanisms might contribute to the design of new therapeutic treatments for developmental disorders associated with impaired nerve connections."
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