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Wellcome Trust Henry Dale Fellow Dr Adam Packer has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant to investigate the function of the Claustrum, a poorly understood area of the brain that could hold the key to how the brain processes information from our environment to generate perception and drive our decisions.

Retrograde labelling of the mouse claustrum from multiple neocortical locations shown in different colours
Retrograde labelling of the mouse claustrum from multiple neocortical locations shown in different colours. Image Credit: Andrew Shelton (DPAG)

How does the brain integrate inputs from the environment to generate perception and drive decisions? An enigmatic brain region called the claustrum has been suggested to play a role by integrating inputs from multiple brain regions. There is strong interconnectivity between the claustrum and nearly every neocortical brain region, indicating that it exerts widespread influence on brain function.

However, approaches to record from or manipulate activity in the claustrum have been hindered by the inability to target it selectively. This has been difficult due to the anatomy of the claustrum: it is a long, thin bilateral nucleus buried between the neocortex and the striatum.

Dr Adam Packer has now been awarded an ERC Starting Grant for his project entitled Optical interrogation of the claustrum from synapses to behavior. This prestigious award will fund his lab for the next five years, and enable him to understand the role of the claustrum in multisensory integration and behaviour by developing new approaches for monitoring and manipulating the activity of the claustrum.

 

We will harness recent advances in electrophysiological, genetic, optical, and behavioural tools to probe its connectivity, activity, and function in a precise manner. Understanding the role of the claustrum in brain function will provide fundamental insight into information processing in the neocortex, which is a major goal in neuroscience. The claustrum is unique because of its dense reciprocal connectivity with neocortex but nearly complete lack of direct subcortical sensory input. This particular anatomical structure indicates the possibility of a unique function, but none has been observed yet. This proposal will rectify the paucity of data on this distinctive structure by applying a battery of modern tools to address the function of the claustrum. - Dr Packer

Dr Packer and his team will be recruiting Postdoctoral Researchers and Technicians to help them gather in depth data for the first time in this area, which will be advertised on both DPAG Vacancies and the Packer Lab website

In an interview below, Dr Packer discusses why it is important to learn more about the claustrum and outlines this unique opportunity to further our knowledge of this little understood part of the brain, including the chance to use innovative techniques to achieve this.

Click here for the subtitled version of the interview.

More information can be found on DPAG's Packer Group site.

More details on the grants and the full list of awardees, which includes a total of 10 University of Oxford Researchers, can be found on the ERC website.