Cris Niell

Associate 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

Cortical signatures of wakeful somatosensory processing.

Sci Rep. 2018 Aug 10;8(1):11977

Authors: Song C, Piscopo DM, Niell CM, Knöpfel T

Abstract
Sensory inputs carry critical information for the survival of an organism. In mice, tactile information conveyed by the whiskers is of high behavioural relevance, and is broadcasted across cortical areas beyond the primary somatosensory cortex. Mesoscopic voltage sensitive dye imaging (VSDI) of cortical population response to whisker stimulations has shown that seemingly 'simple' sensory stimuli can have extended impact on cortical circuit dynamics. Here we took advantage of genetically encoded voltage indicators (GEVIs) that allow for cell type-specific monitoring of population voltage dynamics in a chronic dual-hemisphere transcranial windowed mouse preparation to directly compare the cortex-wide broadcasting of sensory information in wakening (lightly anesthetized to sedated) and awake mice. Somatosensory-evoked cortex-wide dynamics is altered across brain states, with anatomically sequential hyperpolarising activity observed in the awake cortex. GEVI imaging revealed cortical activity maps with increased specificity, high spatial coverage, and at the timescale of cortical information processing.

PMID: 30097603 [PubMed - in process]

Related Articles

Changes in white matter in mice resulting from low-frequency brain stimulation.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Jun 18;:

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

Abstract
Recent reports have begun to elucidate mechanisms by which learning and experience produce white matter changes in the brain. We previously reported changes in white matter surrounding the anterior cingulate cortex in humans after 2-4 weeks of meditation training. We further found that low-frequency optogenetic stimulation of the anterior cingulate in mice increased time spent in the light in a light/dark box paradigm, suggesting decreased anxiety similar to what is observed following meditation training. Here, we investigated the impact of this stimulation at the cellular level. We found that laser stimulation in the range of 1-8 Hz results in changes to subcortical white matter projection fibers in the corpus callosum. Specifically, stimulation resulted in increased oligodendrocyte proliferation, accompanied by a decrease in the g-ratio within the corpus callosum underlying the anterior cingulate cortex. These results suggest that low-frequency stimulation can result in activity-dependent remodeling of myelin, giving rise to enhanced connectivity and altered behavior.

PMID: 29915074 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Related Articles

Seeing with a biased visual cortical map.

J Neurophysiol. 2018 May 09;:

Authors: Mazade R, Niell CM, Alonso JM

PMID: 29742024 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]