Cris Niell

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology
Member, ION

Ph.D. Stanford University
B.S. Stanford Univeristy

Office: 
214 LISB
541-346-8598

 

Research Interests: Function and development of neural circuits for visual processing

Overview: How do we make sense of the visual world around us? Our brain takes a pattern of photons hitting the retina and continually creates a coherent representation of what we see – detecting objects and landmarks rather than just perceiving an array of pixels. This image processing allows us to perform a range of visual tasks, such as recognizing a friend’s face, finding your way to the grocery store, and catching a frisbee. However, how these computational feats are achieved by the neural circuitry of the visual system is largely unknown. Furthermore, this circuitry is wired up by a range of cellular processes, such as arbor growth, synapse formation, and activity-dependent plasticity, and thus these developmental mechanisms effectively determine how we see the world.

Our research is focused on understanding how neural circuits perform the image processing that allows us to perform complex visual behaviors, and how these circuits are assembled during development. We use in vivo recording techniques, including high-density extracellular recording and two-photon imaging, along with molecular genetic tools to dissect neural circuits, such as cell-type specific markers, optogenetic activation and inactivation, tracing of neural pathways, and in vivo imaging of dendritic and synaptic structure. We have also implemented behavioral tasks for mice so we can perform quantitative pyschophysics to measure the animal’s perception, and we use theoretical models to understand general computational principles being instantiated by a neural circuit.

RECENT PUBLICATIONS

Related Articles

Rhythmic brain stimulation reduces anxiety-related behavior in a mouse model based on meditation training.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Feb 21;:

Authors: Weible AP, Piscopo DM, Rothbart MK, Posner MI, Niell CM

Abstract
Meditation training induces changes at both the behavioral and neural levels. A month of meditation training can reduce self-reported anxiety and other dimensions of negative affect. It also can change white matter as measured by diffusion tensor imaging and increase resting-state midline frontal theta activity. The current study tests the hypothesis that imposing rhythms in the mouse anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), by using optogenetics to induce oscillations in activity, can produce behavioral changes. Mice were randomly assigned to groups and were given twenty 30-min sessions of light pulses delivered at 1, 8, or 40 Hz over 4 wk or were assigned to a no-laser control condition. Before and after the month all mice were administered a battery of behavioral tests. In the light/dark box, mice receiving cortical stimulation had more light-side entries, spent more time in the light, and made more vertical rears than mice receiving rhythmic cortical suppression or no manipulation. These effects on light/dark box exploratory behaviors are associated with reduced anxiety and were most pronounced following stimulation at 1 and 8 Hz. No effects were seen related to basic motor behavior or exploration during tests of novel object and location recognition. These data support a relationship between lower-frequency oscillations in the mouse ACC and the expression of anxiety-related behaviors, potentially analogous to effects seen with human practitioners of some forms of meditation.

PMID: 28223484 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Related Articles

Long-Term Optical Access to an Estimated One Million Neurons in the Live Mouse Cortex.

Cell Rep. 2016 Dec 20;17(12):3385-3394

Authors: Kim TH, Zhang Y, Lecoq J, Jung JC, Li J, Zeng H, Niell CM, Schnitzer MJ

Abstract
A major technological goal in neuroscience is to enable the interrogation of individual cells across the live brain. By creating a curved glass replacement to the dorsal cranium and surgical methods for its installation, we developed a chronic mouse preparation providing optical access to an estimated 800,000-1,100,000 individual neurons across the dorsal surface of neocortex. Post-surgical histological studies revealed comparable glial activation as in control mice. In behaving mice expressing a Ca(2+) indicator in cortical pyramidal neurons, we performed Ca(2+) imaging across neocortex using an epi-fluorescence macroscope and estimated that 25,000-50,000 individual neurons were accessible per mouse across multiple focal planes. Two-photon microscopy revealed dendritic morphologies throughout neocortex, allowed time-lapse imaging of individual cells, and yielded estimates of >1 million accessible neurons per mouse by serial tiling. This approach supports a variety of optical techniques and enables studies of cells across >30 neocortical areas in behaving mice.

PMID: 28009304 [PubMed - in process]