Discovering how the brain gives rise to behaviour

Neuroscience still lacks a coherent framework for understanding how the brain’s circuits generate and control a rich repertoire of instinctive and adaptive behaviours.

Research at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre aims to provide a deep understanding about how activity in neural circuits encodes the fundamental processes underlying behaviour, by focusing on the following challenging questions:


Through multi-disciplinary team research, and in close collaboration with the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit (GCNU), scientists at the SWC are generating new theories that relate computational algorithms to identified neural circuits to explain different aspects of cognition and behaviour.

Our approach requires investigation at multiple scales, revealing computations performed by synapses, cells, circuits and brain regions. We use methods to identify, label, manipulate and record identified neurons in multiple brain regions during behaviour. This is achieved through the application of state of the art methods including two-photon and wide-field calcium imaging, fiber photometry, electrode array and whole-cell recordings, genetics, anatomy and connectomics, optogenetics and pharmacogenetics, quantitative behavioural methods and real-time brain-computer interfaces (closed-loop, virtual reality).

These methods are used to not only identify and dissect the circuits involved in particular behaviours, but also to test their necessity and sufficiency to establish causal links. The large functional and anatomical datasets are visualised, analysed and interpreted with modern computational tools and virtual platforms, in close collaboration with the GCNU.

In collaboration with UCL colleagues and external partners, the SWC is at the forefront of the development of exciting new technologies, such as high density Neuropixels probes, which permit recordings from thousands of neurons across multiple brain regions during behaviour. These and other emerging technologies will generate entirely new types of datasets at the spatiotemporal scale relevant for distributed computations underlying behaviour, and therefore help inform and constrain the theories that explain how brain-wide activity leads to behavioural decisions.