Markus Meister's group explores how large circuits of nerve cells work. They primarily study the visual system, from processing in the retina to the circuits of the superior colliculus to the control of visually guided behaviors and perception. Ulimately they working to understand large nervous systems in the same way as we understand large electronic circuits.
These are some of the research questions that guide their explorations:
What visual information is encoded by the neurons in the circuit. This involves recording electrical signals from many neurons, while stimulating the retinal input with visual patterns. Interpreting the relationship between sensory input and neural output involves copious mathematical modeling.
How are these computations performed? For this they gain access to the innards of the circuit using fine electrodes or molecular tools. The ultimate goal here is to summarize the system's function with a neural circuit diagram that efficiently simulates its operation.
Why are the circuits built this way? Much of the structure and function of the early visual system is conserved from mouse to man and probably serves a common purpose. Perhaps to pack information efficiently into the optic nerve? Or to rapidly extract some signals that are essential for survival? To test these ideas they modify the neural circuits and monitor the resulting effects on visual behavior.