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Towards a functional model for associate learning and memory formation

Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour

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Dr J Liu , Prof Rodrigo Quian Quiroga No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The aim of this project is to study the most up-to-date experimental data regarding single-neuron and network learning and coding in humans, with the expectation that a functional model could be established thereon. If possible, this model shall be not just biologically descriptive but also computationally implementable, as the stimulation protocol is based on the natural scenes of visual and auditory scenes that is beyond the simple protocols.

Associative learning is one of the most fundamental modes of learning and memory formation in animals and humans alike. However, the neuronal models underlying the associative learning remain elusive. Up to now, two major lines of competing models are present, i.e., the parallel distributed processing (PDP) models and the sparse coding representation (SCR) models. PDP models state that all the items are learned and stored by the entire neuronal network with the synaptic weight matrix as an ensemble; whereas SCR models depict that each individual item is learned and stored by a selective sparse subset of neurons. While PDP models have been prevailing in machine learning technologies, SCR models are becoming greatly substantiated by recent advances in experimental neuroscience, in particular, human recordings conducted at the Centre for Systems Neuroscience at the University of Leicester.

This project involves data analysis where the data of human recordings will be provided by local researchers at our Centre. We will have the access to the data of single-cell hippocampal recordings during memory and learning tasks of human subjects under the natural stimulations. Based on these data, we will draw a hypothesised theoretical model that is plausible for these new sets of experimental data as well as for other related published results. Furthermore, designs of new experiments based on the theoretical predictions shall also be made such that the model could be experimentally testified or falsified.

A few pieces of descriptive experimental findings or theoretical expectations shall be compatible with the new model, including but not restricted to the following issues: (1) Time: the procedure of learning can be variable over multiple timescales, but the outcome of learning must be largely invariable over the objective observer’s timescale. (2) Space: the theoretical capacity of memory (reliable and specific representation of learned items) shall be predictable for any limited total number of neurons, such that it is experimentally testable. (3) Biological plausibility: the model must not contain any biologically implausible settings and operating rules, e.g.: a 1000-layer neural network, each of which is updated at microseconds timescale.

We will bring forward a new hypothesised models of associative learning and memory, refine and validate the model with theoretical calculations/simulations, justified the results by using experimental data provided by the valuable human singe-cell recordings where experimental work will be conducted by our colleges.

UK/EU applicants only.

Entry requirements:
Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor Degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject.
The University of Leicester English language requirements apply where applicable:

How to apply:
To apply for the PhD please refer to the guidelines and use the application link at
Please also submit your MIBTP notification form at

Project / Funding Enquiries: [Email Address Removed]
Application enquiries to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

4 year fully funded BBSRC MIBTP studentship
UK/EU fees and stipend at UKRI rates. For 2020 this will be £15,285 pa
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