Quick Project Snapshot

The modulation of sensory perception by the prefrontal cortex.

The brain has many areas specialised for specific functions, which must communicate with one another to generate an internal representation of our surrounding environment. It is therefore not surprising that disruptions to brain connectivity are the basis of many neuropathological diseases.

The prefrontal cortex exerts ‘top-down’ control of many cortical areas during complex emotional and cognitive behavior. This modulatory information courses through the upper layers of the cortex and synapses onto pyramidal neuron dendrites within the superficial cortical layers. Therefore, understanding prefrontal communication requires detailed knowledge of how cortical dendrites process this top-down information.

This project will combine multiple state-of-the-art techniques including two-photon microscopy, patch-clamp electrophysiology and optogenetics (light to control neurons) in vivo to probe the influence of the prefrontal cortex on sensory perception.

Specifically, the influence of prefrontal cortex communication on the activity of pyramidal neurons within the somatosensory cortex will be investigated during non-noxious sensory stimulation. The distal dendrites of cortical pyramidal neurons generate large NMDA-dependent voltage events, termed NMDA spikes, in response to sensory stimulation. The generation of these NMDA spikes are extremely important in neuronal response to sensory input and therefore whether prefrontal cortical activity modulates their generation and leads to changes in sensory perception will be investigated.

The results of this study will reveal the cellular mechanisms underlying prefrontal cortex control of other brain regions and will therefore shed light on diseases involving prefrontal cortical dysfunction.

Dr Lucy Palmer

Neural Networks Laboratory

Neurons are the building blocks of behaviour

Our goal is to understand the neural activity contributing to perception and behaviour in the mammalian brain. Individual neurons are continuously bombarded with thousands of synaptic inputs which must integrate to generate an internal representation of the external environment. We investigate how the brain processes this sensory information by measuring the activity of neurons within the neocortex in vivo using a variety of techniques including two photon calcium imaging, somatic and dendritic patch-clamp recordings and optogenetics.

We are particularly interested in the activity of dendrites, which are the thin neural processes that receive the vast majority of the neuron’s synaptic input. Dendrites act as independent signalling units, integrating information according to complex computational rules. The dendritic integration of synaptic input, its modulation and influence on global brain function and behaviour is the focus on our research.

Through our work, we not only aim to reveal how sensory information is received, transformed and modulated in neurons, but also how this processing of synaptic input contributes to the overall neural network activity underlying behaviour.


All Projects by this Lab

The modulation of sensory perception by the prefrontal cortex.


The Florey's Epilepsy division is a world-leading centre for epilepsy research. The division has major groups at both the Florey’s Austin and Parkville campus. The group studies mechanisms that cause epilepsy from the level of cells to the function of the whole brain. We use technologies including advanced MRI and cutting edge cellular physiology techniques to allow us to understand genetic and acquired mechanisms that give rise to epilepsy. Together with our colleagues from The University of Melbourne and across Australia we are working towards finding a cure for epilepsy.

All Labs that operate in this Division

Epilepsy Cognition LaboratoryEpilepsy Neuroinformatics LaboratoryImaging and EpilepsyInnate Phagocytosis LaboratoryIon Channels and Human Diseases LaboratoryNeural Networks LaboratoryNeurophysiology of Excitable Networks LaboratoryPsychology and Experimental NeurophysiologySleep and CognitionTraumatic Brain Injury Laboratory