Auditory cortex and operant conditioning

Department of Neuroscience, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Optogenetic stimulation of auditory networks to induce Pavlovian eyeblink conditioning in the cerebellum. A PhD position is available in the Department of Neuroscience of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to investigate to what extent particular spatiotemporal patterns of neuronal activity in the auditory cortex and/or brainstem can be used as a conditional stimulus for subconscious Pavlovian conditioning. Activation of auditory networks do not only play an important role in voluntary auditory perception, but they are also highly relevant during subconscious conditioning. For example, when we move around in traffic or our home environment, we make many involuntary movements that have been conditioned based upon specific sounds generated in a particular part of 3D-space. It is clear that critical parts of such memory engrams occur in the cerebellum, but it remains to be shown how the auditory inputs reach the cerebellum and which networks of the auditory pathway are necessary and sufficient to induce auditory conditioning. In this project, you will first use in vivo two-photon calcium imaging with genetically encoded calcium indicators to study the changes in firing behavior of auditory neurons in the inferior colliculus (IC) and auditory cortex (AC) following presentation of natural auditory stimuli that are successful in triggering conditioned eyeblink responses, and subsequently you will use optogenetics to artificially manipulate these patterns in IC and/or AC (or parts of them) to find out whether activation of these networks are sufficient to drive subconscious associative processes in the cerebellum. The project involves a combination of methodological development, physiology and psychophysics enabling the delineation of the essential components of an activity pattern mediating a subconscious response. It offers an ideal training opportunity for a person with a physics or engineering background wanting to move into the field of neuroscience.


Prof. Chris I. de Zeeuw