Interview: Naoya Takahashi
Naoya Takahashi joined IINS as a new team leader a few weeks ago, thanks a Junior Team Leader chair of the Neurocampus program funded by the Région Nouvelle-Aquitaine. He also recently had the honor of two awards and a cover! Let’s meet him.
The name of your team in “Neural basis of perception”. Can you explain us your researches?
Attention and contextual knowledge are prerequisites for optimal perception and decision making. The overarching goal of our lab is to identify the neuronal mechanisms underlying cognitive control and contextual modulation of perception and behavioral actions.
Towards this goal, our team focuses on tactile sensation, one of the most predominant sensory modalities in rodents to perceive the world. We investigate how tactile inputs are processed and modulated in mouse somatosensory cortex and then gated to the downstream regions. We hypothesize a canonical mechanism of input integration and transformation into spike trains in individual pyramidal neurons at different brain states (e.g., attention), and contexts (e.g., behavioral demands).
To achieve this goal, we elucidate 1) the origins and the spatiotemporal structures of the inputs arriving at the neuronal dendrites and 2) the subcellular machineries incorporated at synapses and dendrites to integrate those inputs (e.g., dendritic spikes).
We draw on a variety of cutting-edge methods and tools (e.g., in vivo two-photon imaging, wide-field imaging, patch-clamp recording, optogenetics, etc.) in combination with highly controlled behavioral paradigms with head-fixed mice.)
You have just been laureate of ATIP and ANR. Can you tell us about the projects linked to those fundings?
I am very pleased and honored to be selected for a laureate of the ATIP-Avenir and ANR-JCJC program of this year (but ANR-JCJC funding was declined due to its incompatibility with ATIP-Avenir).
In this funded project, we specifically focus on understanding of neurophysiology of attention. We will investigate the cellular and circuit basis of attentional modulation of tactile sensory processing. Attention is an essential brain function which prioritize sensory processing and guide us to decide on behavior.
Attention is often described as a spotlight: attentional resourses are thought to be selectively allocated to relevant sensory stimuli. Our goal is to visualize the spotlight. By combining calcium imaging with controlled behavioral tasks in mice, we will determine how attentional resources, such as long-range cortical inputs, neuromodulators, are distributed in space and time over the sensory cortex. We are also interested in the process where attentional inputs are integrated into ongoing tactile sensory processing. We will apply a broad range of tools and technique (e.g., two-photon imaging, electrophysiology, optogenetics, etc) to dissect this process at the subcellular resolution – synapses and dendrites.
This month of October is full of good news for you: you also did the cover of Nature Neuroscience with a paper from your former team in Berlin.
Yes, I was indeed very happy to see that my paper was selected for the cover of journal Nature Neuroscience.
This work was built on my previous work, which elucidated a decisive role of nonlinear dendritic activity in the sensory cortex at the “moment of perception”. We looked at dendritic activity of cortical pyramidal neurons when mice perceived a weak tactile stimulus (whisker deflection). We previously showed that regenerative activation of the apical dendrites of cortical neurons determined the perceptual threshold for detecting stimuli (Takahashi et al., Science, 2016). To our surprise, this dendritic mechanism selectively activated the subpopulation of cortical neurons, which exclusively projects to subcortical structures, when mice detected behaviorally-relevant stimuli (Takahashi et al., Nature Neuroscience, 2020). This work shed light on the role cortical dendrites play in gating context-dependent interaction between cortex and subcortical regions in the perceptual process.
Will there be positions open in your team soon?
Yes, we currently have open positions for two postdocs and one technical assistant!
The postdoc positions belong to the recently funded project “Cellular and circuit basis of attentional modulation of tactile sensory processing” (by ATIP-Avenir2020). In this project, we will apply in vivo imaging methods to investigate cortical sensory processing at the subcellular resolution (i.e., synapses, dendrites) in head-fixed mice performing a tactile task.
The successful candidate holding a PhD will show proven experience in neurophysiology (e.g., two-photon imaging, electrophysiology, mouse behavior) in addition to a strong scientific motivation. Programing skills in matlab or python are required.
For the Technical assistant position, the suitable candidate will have skills in one or more of: immunohistochemistry, epi-fluorescent/confocal microscopy, stereotactic surgery, handing and training mice, programming (matlab, python).