Dr Kerry Walker was recently interviewed by Stories of WiN, a team of researchers behind a collection of profiles showcasing Women in Neuroscience.
The aim of the Stories of WiN project is to "highlight the stories of women neuroscientists at different career stages and from diverse backgrounds and subfields."
Dr Walker discusses her journey to become a scientist, her first step to establishing her independence through receiving an Early Career Research Fellowship, her cutting-edge research studying the auditory cortex and the importance of embracing imperfection.
During her interview, Dr Walker refers to recently published work exploring maps of stimulus features that are known to be contained in many brain regions. Context for this area of research can be found in introductory Neuroscience textbooks, which tell you that neurons in the primary auditory cortex form a "tonotopic" frequency gradient. "This is analogous to a piano keyboard, with neurons responding most strongly to low frequencies at one end, and those preferring high frequencies at the other." (Dr Walker).
The Walker Group's recent paper has re-examined these maps using two modern techniques (Neuropixels microelectrodes and two-photon calcium imaging) that enables the team to measure the activity of a large number of neurons in the living brain with improved spatial resolution. Their results demonstrated that while neurons simply tuned to just one frequency from an orderly tonotopic map in the auditory cortex, many other neurons are instead tuned to multiple frequencies. "The neurons with more complex tuning often prefer widely different sound frequencies, even if they are neighbours on the tonotopic map. Furthermore, we show that this organization is equivalent in ferrets and mice, suggesting that it may be a common design feature across many mammalian species. Our results challenge the way Neuroscientists think about the roles of maps in sensory cortex. Variations within these maps are not a failure of organization at higher levels of the sensory systems, but rather a necessary feature of neurons that must represent more real-world, complex objects like voices." (Dr Walker).
Click the link "Complexity of frequency receptive fields predicts tonotopic variability across species" to access the full paper.
More information about Dr Walker can be found on her personal profile.
More detailed information about her research can be found on the Walker Group web page.