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Neuronal coupling across spatiotemporal scales and dimensions of cortical population activity

Primary Supervisor: Dr Michael Okun, Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour 

Secondary supervisor: Dr. Jian Liu

PhD project title: Neuronal coupling across spatiotemporal scales and dimensions of cortical population activity

University of Registration: University of Leicester

Project outline:

The human cortex is the most complex known system. It is responsible for a vast range of sensorimotor, decision making, and other cognitive abilities of humans and other mammals. The activity of cortical neuronal networks is organised across multiple spatiotemporal scales, and remains poorly understood. Our laboratory is particularly interested in the relationship between the activity of an individual neuron and of the larger networks within which the neuron is embedded (Lewis, 2015). For example, we have recently compared the coupling between neurons and their local network across an extensive range of timescales, finding major timescale-dependent distinctions, suggestive of different mechanisms regulating cortical activity on different timescales (Okun et al., 2019).

We rely on recordings using next-generation high-density silicon probes for data collection (Jun et al., 2017; Lebedeva et al., 2020) and advanced computational methods for their analysis. We are particularly interested in dynamics of cortical neuronal populations on infraslow timescales (tens of seconds and minutes) and under the influence of specific classes of psychoactive drugs (hallucinogens and anaesthetics).

There are several experimental and computational projects available in this research area. Purely computational projects will rely on data we are collecting in the laboratory as part of ongoing projects, as well as on publicly available datasets. Such computational projects are particularly suitable for students with a background in exact sciences or computer science and programming.


  1. Jun JJ et al. (2017) Fully integrated silicon probes for high-density recording of neural activity. Nature 551:232–236.
  2. Lebedeva A, Steinmetz N, Pachitariu M, Bhagat J, Harris K, Carandini M, Okun M (2020) Recording from the same cortical neurons over months with Neuropixels probes.
  3. Lewis S (2015) Computational neuroscience: Population coupling. Nat Rev Neurosci 16:313–313.
  4. Okun M, Steinmetz NA, Lak A, Dervinis M, Harris KD (2019) Distinct Structure of Cortical Population Activity on Fast and Infraslow Timescales. Cereb Cortex 29:2196–2210.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the Rules of Life: Neuroscience and behaviour & Systems Biology

    Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

    • Processing and visualisation of electrophysiological data, including filtering and spike sorting.
    • Advanced programming in high-level modern programming language such as Python and/or MATLAB.
    • Advanced statistical and machine learning methods.
    • Analysis of large, highly dimensional datasets.

    Contact: Dr Michael Okun, University of Leicester