Sami El-Boustani is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Basic Neurosciences at University of Geneva (Switzerland). After graduating as a theoretical physicist at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), he quickly developed a strong interest in neurosciences and obtained a second Master degree in Cognitive Science from l’Ecole Normal Supérieure in Paris (France). Sami then started a Ph.D. in neuroscience at Sorbonne University and conducted his research project in the team of Dr. Alain Destexhe at the Unité de Neuroscience Intégratives et Computationelles (UNIC-CNRS, Gif-sur-Yvette, France). There he developed computational models and experimental approaches to study sensory processing and long-term plasticity in cortical networks in vivo. After completing his Ph.D. in 2011 he joined the laboratory of Prof. Mriganka Sur in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA) as a postdoctoral fellow funded by an EMBO and Marie Curie International Outgoing fellowships. There he studied the function of specific interneuron cell-types in the primary visual cortex as well as mechanisms of dendritic plasticity in single neurons in vivo. In 2015 Sami returned to Lausanne to join the laboratory of Prof. Carl Petersen in the Brain and Mind Institute at EPFL for a second postdoctoral position. His work focused on the brain circuits involved in goal-directed sensorimotor transformation in the mouse whisker somatosensory system. In 2018 he was awarded an Eccellenza Professorial fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) to start his own lab at University of Geneva.
The lab is interested in how the brain processes sensory information and uses it to guide future actions. Sami’s previous work has helped identified neuronal coding principles in the visual and somatosensory systems as well as mechanisms of synaptic plasticity that can shape these representations. With his background in sensory systems, from single-cell to circuit level, Sami now aims to understand how prior knowledge of the world acquired through past experiences guides behavior in perceptual decision-making. Extracting statistical regularities in the environment to build predictions of future sensory percepts is an essential cognitive process, which animals use to adjust their behavior and achieve specific goals. Perceptual predictions come from an internal representation of the world in the brain that is continually being shaped by new experiences. However, it is not known how these signals are integrated with incoming sensory inputs at the cellular level. This question has been at the center of neuroscience for decades, but the underlying mechanism remains elusive due to limited access to brain circuits. Recent developments in genetically-encoded sensors and effectors as well as new behavioral paradigms have positioned mice as an ideal model to answer these questions. The El-Boustani lab aims to study the existence and influence of experience-dependent internal representations on perceptual decision-making in mice in order to unveil its neuronal underpinning from synaptic integration to large-scale brain dynamics. We use a combination of in vivo electrophysiology, wide-field imaging, two-photon microscopy, goal-directed tasks, optogenetic and molecular biology to address these questions.