Research Summary

The role of constraints in the design of the nervous system.

Energy consumption constrains the function and evolution of neural circuits; consequently particular neurons use specific combinations of voltage-sensitive Na+ and K+ channels to produce energy efficient action potentials (APs). Although these specific examples reveal some of the design principles that underlie the generation of energy efficient pulses, the capabilities of propagation of energy efficient APs are largely unexplored. The first aim of my research is to understand the role of biophysical constraints like metabolic energy, axonal wiring costs, AP reliability and its speed in shaping the function of single neurons. For this, we will go beyond the standard "compartmental models" in theoretical neuroscience, applying advanced numerical approaches in optimization and perturbation theory to understand the mathematics of the underlying partial differential equations that describe efficient neuronal signal propagation.

More recently, studies on insect photoreceptors have suggested that information is more expensive in high performance cells, alluding to a law of diminishing returns that promotes the evolution of economical structures by penalising excessive performance. Equipped with advanced approaches to optimize biophysical models, we would affront the theoretical challenge of how a neuron should adapt its intrinsic properties to become dually optimal, minimizing both the cost of transmitting APs and maximizing the number of bits of information transmitted. In other words, the second goal of my research seeks to understand the metabolic cost of homeostatic regulation, both in single neurons and that of network of neurons.