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We investigate how the activity of neurons in auditory cortex give rise to our perception of sound.

The auditory cortical neurons pictured above have been modified to express a calcium-linked fluorophore, known as GCamP6m. Under a 2-photon laser microscope, neurons in the brain appear as green rings. Paniello et al., SfN abstracts, 2014
The auditory cortical neurons pictured above have been modified to express a calcium-linked fluorophore, known as GCamP6m. Under a 2-photon laser microscope, neurons in the brain appear as green rings.

We detect sounds with our ears, but the brain is needed to convert this incoming sound wave into the rich and informative perceptual world that we experience. In our lab, we are examining how the activity of brain cells in the auditory cortex allows humans and other animals to identify and locate sounds. Our research has provided new insights into how temporal patterns of action potentials and the coordinated activity of populations of neurons contribute to this complex process.

Our studies aim to uncover how patterns of action potentials in auditory cortical neurons represent four perceptual features of sounds. These include: (1) "pitch", which is the sound's tonal quality; (2) the location of the sound source in space; (3) "timbre", which incorporates the spectral characteristics that we use to identify the sound source (e.g. a violin versus a piano); and (4) the temporal properties of sound, such as rhythm.

We use a range of techniques in order to understand these neural processes across multiple levels. The precise spiking responses of single neurons and small groups of neurons are investigated in anaesthetised and awake, behaving animals. The responses of larger populations of neurons are measured simultaneously using in vivo 2-photon imaging of neural circuits. Finally, psychophysical studies are used to probe the listening capabilities of humans and animals through their behavioural choices.

Current Group Members

Post-doctoral: Quentin Gaucher

Doctoral: Mariangela Panniello (Physiology), Nasir Ahmad (Experimental Psychology)

Undergraduate: Emily Gowers (Biomedical Sciences), Molly Atkinson (Biomedical Sciences)

Graduate Student Opportunities

We are interested in taking on talented new graduate students in our group. Prospective graduate students would need to secure their own scholarship funding, either through the University of Oxford or external sources.

I have supervised 4 Wellcome Trust MSc dissertation students in the past. We always welcome new rotation students from this and similar programmes throughout the university. 

Undergraduate Student Opportunities 

I have supervised >20 FHS undergraduate dissertation students at the University of Oxford, including Biomedical Sciences, Medicine, and American Visiting students. New students are encouraged to apply to join our team for your dissertation project or as a summer research volunteer. 

Our team

  • Kerry Walker
    Kerry Walker

    Early Career Research Fellow

  • Mariangela Panniello

    Postgraduate Student

  • Quentin Gaucher

    Postdoctoral Research Scientist

Selected publications

Related research themes