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Prof Neil Burgess
Prof Neil Burgess profile picture
  • Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience
  • Clinical & Experimental Epilepsy
  • UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
  • Faculty of Brain Sciences

Neil Burgess is Professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience. His laboratory investigates the neural mechanisms of memory using a combination of methods. These methods include computational modeling, virtual reality, human neuropsychology and functional neuroimaging, 2-photon microscopy and single unit recordings in freely moving rodents. His main goal is to understand how the actions of networks of neurons in our brains allow us to remember events and the spatial locations where they occurred. After studying maths and physics at UCL he did a PhD in theoretical physics in Manchester and a research fellowship in Rome, before returning to UCL funded by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, Medical Research Council Senior Fellowship and program grant, and the Wellcome Trust. He served as Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience from Sept 2014-2019 and is affiliated with the UCL Institute of Neurology, Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging and Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits & Behaviour. His research is currently funded by a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellowship and an EU advanced grant.

Research Groups
Research Themes
Research Summary

My group and collaborators seek to reach a neural circuit-level understanding of human spatial and episodic memory, focusing on the role of the hippocampus. We design and perform single-unit recording, EEG, fMRI, MEG, neuropsychological and behavioural experiments in humans and rodents, and use computational modeling to integrate the results. The group encourages interaction between modeling and experiment by being directly involved in both. We discovered how environmental cues determine the firing of hippocampal “place cells” which represent a rat’s current location via the firing of putative “boundary vector cells” (BVC) (which have now been found), enabling prediction of place cell firing in new environments. We also demonstrated the presence of attractor dynamics, long-term experience-dependent plasticity and temporal coding within hippocampal neuronal representations. In humans we have pioneered the use of virtual reality (VR) to investigate the neural mechanisms of spatial memory, identifying the specific contributions of hippocampal and striatal systems to spatial navigation, and the learning rules employed by each. Computational models include the firing of entorhinal cortical grid cells as the interference of theta-frequency membrane potential oscillations, and human memory for spatial context as the interaction between neural firing patterns in medial temporal and parietal areas. These models can explain the patterns of fMRI activation in remembering or imagining spatial scenes, and can predict the search patterns of humans within VR environments.

Teaching Summary

I am course organiser (with Caswell Barry) of "Neural computation: models of brain function" for 3rd year BSc Neuroscience and intercalating medical students, and MSc students in Cognitive and Decision Science and in Brain and Mind Sciences). I also lecture on various other BSc and MSc courses in UCL, and supervise BSc and MSc research projects, in addition to PhD supervision within my own group.

Academic Background
1990   Doctor of Philosophy University of Manchester
1987   Bachelor of Science University College London
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