In the middle of applying to universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE In the middle of applying to universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE

Defining computation and connectivity in neuronal population activity underlying motor learning

   Division of Medical Sciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Andrew Sharott  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The DPhil in Computational Discovery is a multidisciplinary programme spanning projects in Advanced Molecular Simulations, Machine Learning and Quantum Computing to develop new tools and methodologies for life sciences discovery.

This innovative course has been developed in close partnership between Oxford University and IBM Research. Each research project has been co-developed by Oxford academics working with IBM scientists. Students will have a named IBM supervisor/s and many opportunities for collaboration with IBM throughout the studentship.

The scientific focus of the programme is at the interface between Physical and Life Sciences. By bringing together advances in data and computing science with large complex sets of experimental data more realistic and predictive computational models can be developed. These new tools and methodologies for computational discovery can drive advances in our understanding of fundamental cellular biology and drug discovery. Projects will span the emerging fields of Advanced Molecular Simulations, Machine Learning and Quantum Computing addressing both fundamental questions in each of these fields as well as at their interfaces.

Students will benefit from the interdisciplinary nature of the course cohort as well as the close interactions with IBM Scientists.

Applicants who are offered places will be provided with a funding package that will include fees at the Home rate, a stipend at the standard Research Council rate (currently £17,668 pa) + £2,400 for four years. 

There are 16 projects available and you may identify up to three projects to be considered for in your application. The details of Project 7 are listed below.

There is no application fee to apply to this course. For information on how to apply and entry requirements, please see DPhil in Computational Discovery | University of Oxford.

Project 7

Title: Defining computation and connectivity in neuronal population activity underlying motor learning

PI: Andrew Sharott

Summary:Neural network structure constrains the activity dynamics of the brain. Specifically, learning of movements guided by the outcome of previous actions leads to adaptations in the motor cortical network and its activity. To understand these mechanisms on the cellular level would require simultaneous recordings from hundreds of local neurons at millisecond timescale in vivo during learning of a skilled movement. We have successfully established an approach to simultaneously record thousands of neurons across motor regions in mice, using recently developed high-density electrode silicon-probes in combination with machine-learning based kinematic analysis and cell-type specific optogenetic modulation.

Motivated by recent work that link structure of population activity to the underlying synaptic connectivity (Dahmen et al., 2022) and our experience in cortical microcircuits (Peng et al., 2019, 2022), we aim to identify core changes in neuronal microcircuits that underlie motor learning and execution. We will develop novel approaches to extract activity signatures reflecting plastic changes on the local synaptic level and model how these constrain the overall dimensionality of neuronal population activity. The results will provide a microcircuit level understanding of learning in motor circuits and lay the groundwork to study neural network architecture in high-density electrophysiological recordings.


Dahmen, D. et al. Strong and localized recurrence controls dimensionality of neural activity across brain areas. Biorxiv 2020.11.02.365072 (2022).

Peng, Y. et al. High-throughput microcircuit analysis of individual human brains through next-generation multineuron patch-clamp. Elife (2019).

Peng, Y. et al. Spatially structured inhibition defined by polarized parvalbumin interneuron axons promotes head direction tuning. Science Advances (2021).

PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs