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Dr Michael Ashby

Dr Michael Ashby

Dr Michael Ashby
BSc(Hons), PhD


Area of research

How early life experience guides the formation of synapses and circuits in the neocortex

Office G31
Biomedical Sciences Building,
University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TD
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+44 (0) 117 331 1905


My research addresses the development of brain circuitry early in life, when anatomical and synaptic plasticity coordinate dramatically to produce functional circuits in the mammalian cortex. Using high resolution optical stimulation and recording combined with molecular, genetic and electrophysiological methods, I aim to define how neonatal sensory experience influences the normal and pathological cortical circuit development that underlies lifelong brain function.Connectivity in a barrel

This is an example of the type of connectivity map generated using 2-photon stimulation and patch clamp electrophysiology to detect and measure synaptic connections. Each sphere represents a neuron inside the barrel structure that is found in the sensory cortex. The green neuron was recorded during the experiment and is shown here with all its dendrites. The other neurons were stimulated during the experiment to find those that make synaptic connections with the recorded cell. Only a small proportion of cells, those shown in colour, are connected. This type of map tells us about rates of connectivity, the properties of those synapses and the geometric relationship between connected cells. Comparing these maps at different stages of early postnatal development allows us to understand the processes involved in the formation of circuitry in the sensory cortex (Ashby & Isaac 2011, Neuron 70:510-521).

Activities / Findings

  • Sensory experience controls circuit maturation by determining synaptic glutamate receptor content
  • Local excitatory microcircuit in the barrel cortex have a highly recurrent, 'small-world' architecture 
  • There is a dissociation between anatomical and functional maturation of dendritic spines that is controlled by sensory experience
  • Development of a 2-photon-based optical stimulation method for circuit mapping at the single cell level


MBChB Level 2

Neurons, glia and neural circuits

Pharmacology and treatment of dementia

Treatment of movement disorders

Selected publications

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Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

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