Timothy Otchy

PhD, Harvard University

Research Assistant Professor of Biology, BU College of Arts & Sciences

Research Interests

The ability to modify future behavior based on past experience is one of the more impressive feats of the brain, and a primary focus of my research is to arrive at a mechanistic description of how this learning algorithm could be implemented by neurons and their connections. To this end, my lab performs a variety of experiments probing, manipulating, and modeling the neural circuits involved in song learning and production. These experiments reveal how motor skills are represented in different parts of the brain, and how these representations are modified as a function of learning. In addition, we combine electrical recordings with manipulations of nearby circuits to shed light on how neural responses in one area are influenced and shaped by activity elsewhere. This work aims to provide fundamental insight into the neural circuit mechanisms underlying the acquisition, execution, and adaptation of complex behaviors.

Recordings from populations of neurons and their processes in freely behaving animals have proven an invaluable tool for dissecting the function of neural circuits underlying a variety of natural behaviors, including navigation, decision making, internal homeostasis, and the generation of complex motor sequences. Advances in precision fabrication techniques have allowed for the development of micro-scale, ultra-light devices suitable for chronic experiments in small animals, such as mice, rats, and songbirds. A second area of investigation focuses on developing new tools for probing and manipulating neural activity in the central and peripheral nervous systems and has produced novel designs for motorized microdrives, electrode arrays, and nerve cuffs for use in pre-clinical studies. In addition to the publication of this work, we make it a priority to distribute materials, designs, and working prototypes to interested researchers.

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