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Neurons are cells: the role of cellular properties in neural circuit computations


Cian O'Donnell | University of Bristol, UK
Philipp Berens | University of Tübingen, Germany


Neuroscience is challenging because the brain is multi-scaled: computations are performed
by molecules, cells, microcircuits, and whole-brain networks, together and in parallel.
Systems neuroscientists traditionally focus on the computations performed by neural circuits,
while abstracting or ignoring mechanisms of single cells. Single-neuron researchers on the
other hand have uncovered the complexity of neuronal gene expression, dendritic
physiology, and synaptic signalling. But only limited sharing of ideas has occurred between
these two fields. There is little role for single-neuron mechanisms in current theories of brain
computation. This workshop aims to bridge this divide by bringing together computational
and experimental researchers who study single-cell processes, and consider their
implications for brain circuit function.

The talks will come from three perspectives: experimentalists, data analysts, and theoretical
modellers. The workshop will ask all speakers and attendees to jointly address three
high-level questions:
1. What should the future directions for this field be?
2. What conceptual, sociological, and technical challenges will need to be overcome?
3. What are the practical next steps needed to make progress?

This workshop is timely for three reasons:
1. Recent advances in both in vivo and in vitro high-throughput single-cell and
sub-cellular gene expression techniques have resulted in an explosion of data.
2. Advances in machine learning methods for likelihood-free parameter inference has
opened the door to fitting complex neuron models to these data.
3. Theorists traditionally shy away from considering cellular complexity in their models,
but their insights are now needed to help us understand the implications of these
complicated new data for in vivo brain function.

Workshop schedule
session 1: dendritic computation
session 2: statistical tools and theoretical modelling
session 3: cell types/RNAseq/omics