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What principles govern the evolution of neural circuits in relation to changes in the size of animals and their behavior? Almost nothing is known about how neural circuits evolve, the changes they undergo as animals evolve to become larger or smaller and how this relates to the behaviors they generate. Potentially, the number of neurons within a neural circuit, the morphology and physiology of those neurons and the numbers of connections between neurons could all change. Circuits of identified neurons in insects provide a unique opportunity to assess these changes and relate them to behavior. We combine a variety of electrophysiological methods, including intracellular recording and staining of identified neurons, with behavioral techniques and comparative methods to approach this problem.
• The developmental mechanisms underlying evolution of a synapse between identified neurons in the grasshoppers and katydids
• The effects of changes in neural circuits on the behaviors they generate
• The evolution of a population of neuromodulatory neurons in the grasshoppers and katydids
• The mechanisms of changing the size of a neuron during evolution
• The role of energy consumption and information processing as selective pressures on the evolution of the nervous system
• The effects of nutrition on the performance of photoreceptors
Education and Degrees
MA Natural Sciences (Genetics) 1997 Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge, UK.
PhD 2000 Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK.
Niven, J. E. (In Press). Brains, Islands, Evolution: the bigger picture on small brains. Trends Ecol. Evol.
Niven, J. E. Visual motion: Homing in on target detection. Curr. Biol., 16, R292-R294 (2006).
Vähäsöyrinki, M., Niven, J. E. et al. (2006). The efficacy of contrast coding is maintained in Drosophila photoreceptors lacking the slow delayed rectifier K+ channel. J. Neurosci. 26, 2652-2660.
Niven, J. E. Brain evolution: getting better all the time? Curr. Biol., 15, R624-R626 (2005).
Niven, J. E. and Scharlemann, J. P. W. (2005). Does metabolic rate at rest and during flight scale with body mass in insects? Biology Letters 1, 346-349.
Niven, J. E. (2004). Channeling evolution: canalization and the nervous system. PLoS Biology 2, 22-4.
Niven, J. E. et al. (2004). Interactions between light induced currents, voltage-gated currents and input signal properties in Drosophila photoreceptors. J. Neurophysiol. 91, 2696-706.
Niven, J. E. et al. (2003). The contribution of Shaker K+ channels to the information capacity of Drosophila photoreceptors. Nature 421, 630-4.
Niven, J. E. and Burrows, M. (2003). Spike width reduction modifies the dynamics of short-term depression at a central synapse in the locust. J. Neurosci. 23, 7461-9.
Niven, J. E., Vähäsöyrinki, M. and Juusola, M. (2003). Shaker K+ channels are predicted to reduce the metabolic cost of neural information in Drosophila photoreceptors. Proc. Roy. Soc. B. Biology Letters 1, S58-61.
Juusola, M., Niven, J. E. and French, A. S. (2003). Shaker K+ channels contribute an early nonlinear amplification to the light response in Drosophila photoreceptors. J. Neurophysiol. 90, 2014-21.