Systems neuroscience addresses the function of neural circuits in intact organisms. The ultimate goal of this area of research is to understand the function of the nervous system at a variety of levels, from single cells to entire networks that mediate complex behaviors such as vision, audition and motor responses. Because systems neuroscience addresses such a broad range of issues, it integrates experimental, analytic and theoretical techniques from a wide range of disciplines. In particular many important analytic and theoretical approaches were developed first in physics and engineering and have been modified for application to neurobiology. At the finest scale of analysis, systems researchers investigate how single cells function as computational units. These studies assess the roles of channel distribution, electrical cable properties and dendritic architecture in neural computation.
Many systems researchers are particularly interested in the biophysical mechanisms that confer important computational properties such as stimulus selectivity, adaptation and learning in single cells. At a more abstract level, systems neuroscience considers how action potentials encode information about the world, and how information can be represented in a network of many cells. Research in this area was made possible by the development of information theory in engineering and physics. At the largest scale, systems neuroscientists investigate the way distinct cortical regions represent information about the world, and how these areas work together to produce integrated behavior. Much of our understanding of representational issues originated in computer science and robotics, while both experimental and analytic approaches to cortical integration are based on principles first developed in physics.
A major focus of research in this area is on visual processing, from retinal phototransduction, connectivity and signal processing, to the response properties and information transfer in the thalamus and primary visual areas of the cortex, to higher areas of the brain. Considerable effort is focused on understanding the visual processing of natural scenes, the role of attention, and the segmentation of visual information. Other areas of research include auditory processing, the memory basis of vocal learning, and olfactory processing.
Other research areas:
Structural Biophysics and Protein Dynamics
Molecular Microscopy and Optical Probes
Cell Signaling and Cellular Physiology
Computational Biology and Genomics
Brain Imaging and Bioelectronics