Engineering-neuroscience project opportunity

BSc Honours Project 2018: Building a computational model of endocannabinoid modulation in the basal ganglia

Endocannabinoids are cannabis-like substances produced naturally in the brain, where they modulate synaptic transmission in a retrograde and ‘on-demand’ fashion. A recent discovery in the group has been that of a novel endocannabinoid-mediated modulation of dopamine neuron activity in the substantia nigra pars compacta. A deeper understanding of this mechanism could lead to future therapeutic strategies which target endocannabinoids, with potential benefit for disease like Parkinson’s disease in which the brains dopamine system is compromised.

The aim of this project is to ‘build’ a computational model of the novel endocannabinoid mechanism and use this model to answer questions that are challenging to address in conventional electrophysiological recordings from animal preparations. Computational models allow complex mechanisms to be studied with relative ease, compared to electrophysiological recordings from brain slices.

The model will be developed in the NEURON simulation environment, and require coding – assembling the components (cell membranes with embedded biophysical properties, neurons connected by synapses) developing a mechanism endocannabinoid action based on published parameters and experimental data sets already obtained. The model will be validated against existing data, and new datasets will be obtained to further validate predictions made by the model. Coding assistance will be available, as well as learning resources. Mathematical assistance will be provided by Dr Shawn Means (Auckland Bioengineering Institute).

What the project will entail: coding of the model in NEURON, analysis of simulated electrophysiological data, electrophysiological recordings of neuronal activity and synaptic strength, brain slice preparation. Experience in electrophysiology (MEDSCI 309) and/or endocannabinoids preferred (MEDSCI 317).

Email Dr Shawn Means for more information.