Reversible silencing of the cochlea

Supervisors: A/Prof Rachael Richardson, A/Prof James Fallon, Dr Alex Thompson

Neural activity from the periphery has been shown to be critically important to the normal development and maintenance of neural processing in the brain. The auditory system has long been studied as an example of neural plasticity, with functional changes to neural processing resulting from deafness or severe hearing loss. Cochlear implants can provide peripheral input and partially reverse these changes from deafness. However, it is unknown if this incomplete reversal is due to the relatively crude input from a cochlear implant or if it is a fundamental limit to plasticity of the mammalian auditory system.

Recently, optogenetic techniques have been developed to provide local inhibition of neural activity using light with high spatial and temporal precision. This project will make use of these advances and our existing skills with cochlear implants to reversibly silence parts of the cochlea over long time periods. This will answer questions for understanding the limits of brain plasticity. Knowledge from this project will feed into further developments of cochlear implants and hearing therapeutics.

The general methods that will be used in this project include electrophysiology, behavioural training, optogenetics, optics, and histology.

This project is suitable for a student with a background in science, biomedicine or engineering (biomedical, electrical).

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