David-Attwell-e1465414807482Speaker: David Attwell, Jodrell Professor of Physiology, University College London

Friday, August 19, 2016, 9:00 – 10:00 am, Logan Hall

Chair: Joe Devlin, University College London

David Attwell studied as an undergraduate in Oxford, first in physics and then in physiology. He subsequently did a PhD with Julian Jack, again in Oxford, studying the electrical properties of nerve and muscle cells, before moving to Berkeley to work on the retina in Frank Werblin’s lab. On returning to the UK from California, he obtained a lectureship at UCL where he has been ever since, being appointed Jodrell Professor of Physiology in 1995 and made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001.

His research career has spanned a wide range of interests, including cardiac electrophysiology, visual information processing, synaptic channels and transporters, glial cells, and brain energy use and supply. He pioneered the use of patch-clamp methods to study how reversal of glutamate transporters causes neurotoxic glutamate release in stroke and related conditions, and (with Simon Laughlin) produced the first “energy budget” assessing the subcellular processes on which the brain uses energy. He has demonstrated that control of cerebral energy supply occurs, not only at the arteriole level, but also at the capillary level mediated by pericytes.

The energetic design of the brain

A universal constraint on the evolution of brains is that the nervous system’s computational power is limited by its energy supply. By describing an energy budget for the grey matter of the mammalian CNS, I will explain how key design features of the brain are determined by the energy supply the brain receives as oxygen and glucose, and how matching of brain energy supply to brain energy use underpins BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging. I will examine why the brain’s white matter uses less energy than the grey matter, and whether myelination really saves energy. By examining how information flow along axons and through synapses relates to the energy used on these processes, I will show that a key concept in brain design is optimisation of information transfer per energy used. Finally, I will demonstrate that the primary locus of control of the brain’s energy supply, and hence of the generation of BOLD fMRI signals, is in capillaries rather than arterioles, outline how dysfunction of this regulatory system occurs after stroke, and highlight the therapeutic opportunities this offers.