“How the Cortex Regulates the Thalamus”
Barry Connors, Ph.D.
L. Herbert Ballou University Professor of Neuroscience
Professor of Medical Science
Chair of Neuroscience
The thalamus provides sensory information to the cerebral cortex, but the cortex also sends massive input to the thalamus. Top-down corticothalamic projections may allow the cortex to regulate sensory processing by modulating the excitability of thalamic neurons. I will describe unique modular circuits within the deep layers of the somatosensory cortex that give rise to corticothalamic axons. I will also show that corticothalamic regulation is a highly dynamic process; it relies on a time- and frequency-dependent balance of feed-forward excitation and inhibition that can switch the excitability and sensory throughput of the thalamus according to ongoing behavioral demands.
Dr. Connors is the L. Herbert Ballou University Professor of Neuroscience, Professor of Medical Science, and Chair of Neuroscience at Brown University. He received his PhD in physiology and pharmacology from Duke, did postdoctoral work at Stanford, and joined the faculty there. He moved to Brown in 1987. His research group studies the functions of neurons, synapses (electrical and chemical), and circuits in the mammalian forebrain. In recent years they have developed strategies for dissecting circuit and interneuron functions in the pathways between thalamus and neocortex using a combination of electrophysiology, optogenetics, imaging, anatomy, and computation. They use both in vitro and in vivo preparations. Their general goals are to understand the neural mechanisms and development of thalamocortical function and dynamics, as well as pathological processes such as epilepsy and neurodevelopmental disorders. In addition to basic research, he is also interested in undergraduate and medical education, and he has coauthored textbooks neuroscience and physiology.