Research Grant Success!

Stella Koutsikou has been awarded a Physiological Society UK research grant to support the lab’s work in identifying the ‘Neural substrates underlying simple decision-making in the hatchling Xenopus laevis tadpole’. 

Lay description of the project: All animals, whatever their level of cognition, need to make behavioural decisions constantly. These decisions are dependent on various external (e.g. presence of a predator) and internal (e.g. hunger, thirst) cues. Animals making the ‘right’ behavioural choices are able to adapt and survive within their environment, and ultimately reproduce. The ability to respond appropriately to challenging environments requires detection and processing of sensory information within the brain. Mammalian research has shown that decision-making processes in complex brain areas, like the primate cortex, include incoming sensory signals that build slowly to a threshold of neuronal excitability, prior to the initiation of a behaviour. Curiously, our recent studies of skin touch-evoked responses in hatchling Xenopus tadpoles have shown a similar, slow and variable built-up of excitation before the initiation of swimming. Therefore, in this simple animal, the decision to swim shares fundamental characteristics with mechanisms proposed for decision-making in higher vertebrates. In this project, we propose to identify the neurons responsible for the origin of the mechanism underlying decision-making in the Xenopus tadpole’s hindbrain and re-evaluate its fundamental importance in respect to the complex mammalian brain.