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Research Interests - Rob Butera

Most of my research interests fall into the general area of Computational Neuroscience - what are the "computational properties" of neurons? This question does not have one answer, or neuroscience would be a pretty mundane field of research and we'd know how the brain works by now! This question can be explored in many contexts, for example learning and memory. Most of my research interests, however, fall into the area of central pattern generation. Central pattern generators (CPGs) are a ubiquitous feature of virtually all nervous systems, from Aplysia Californica to Homo Sapiens. My particular interests involve theoretical/computational studies of the role of CPGs in autonomic control (specifically, the neural control of respiration) and locomotor pattern generation. My approaches range from models of single neurons to large populations. Individual models may be represented by a complex combination of ion channels, or as simply as a single phase variable - it's all a matter of what we are trying to learn. My own experience has told me that it is often useful to tackle a given computational modeling problem at two different scales of complexity and compare the results.

For those not familiar with computational neuroscience, most of my research involves the application of systems engineering (if you're an engineer) or dynamical systems theory (if you're a mathematician) to the analysis of complex biological systems. Mathematically, most of these models are large systems of nonlinear ordinary or partial differential equations (personally, I prefer the ordinary kind). These approaches have been applied to the modelling of electrically excitable cells (neural and cardiac) and the analysis and reduction of such cells. I take particular "joy" in modeling complex systems and then attempting to distill those models to the simplest possible system that still contain the essential dynamics of the phenomena to be investigated.

At present most of my efforts are in collaboration with Jeff Smith (Lab of Neural Control) and John Rinzel investigating the cellular and emergent network properties of neurons in the brainstem of neonatal rats which we believe are responsible for generating the motor patters which underly breathing in mammals. I have also recently completed a theoretical paper investigating the origin of multiple bursting solutoion in bursting neurons. Other past and present interests include activity-dependent gene regulation, nonlinear circuit phenomena, models of cardiac and nerve conduction, and electrophysiological instrumentation.

A summary of specific things I've done (or am doing), in a somewhat chronological order (earliest first).
Links to publication abstracts are provided when published.



Rob Butera<butera@helix.nih.gov>