December 17, 2017

Julija Krupič

L2Julija Krupič developed a fascination with the way the brain maps the environment. Her articles are published in the most prestigious journals like “Nature” and “Science”. In 2015 she was awarded “The Eppendorf & Science Prize”, which acknowledges the increasingly active and important role of neurobiology in advancing our understanding of the functioning of the brain and the nervous system. Julija Krupič is Sir Henry Wellcome’s Fellow and lecturer at University College London (UCL). From 2008 she is a member of a research team lead by prof. John O’Keefe, who’s been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Julija graduated from the Faculty of Physics at Vilnius University, received MRes in Bioimaging Science at Imperial College London (2007) and MRes/PhD in Neuroscience at University College London (UK) (2011). In 2018 “Krupič lab” will be opened at University of Cambridge, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.

Julija is studying the function of neurons in the hippocampal formation, a part of the brain’s limbic system. The hippocampal formation is crucial for spatial navigation, learning and memory. Damage to it results in impairments in spatial memory and various types of neurological and psychiatric disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia) as well as memory and learning problems associated with ageing.

There are four main classes of spatially tuned cells in the hippocampal formation: place cells – activated when the animal enters a specific area of the environment, grid cells – active in multiple places covering the entire environment and arranged in a symmetrical hexagonal pattern, head direction cells – active whenever the animal is facing a particular direction independent of the animal’s position, and finally, border cells – which fire whenever the animal is close to the borders of the environment.

Grid cell pattern appeared to be invariant to both properties of the environment (its size, shape etc.) as well as the animal’s behavior (running speed, grooming etc.) prompting the suggestion that they represented an internally-generated universal metric of space. Krupič’s work showed that grid cells could diverge from the hexagonal symmetry and this divergence was largely determined by the geometry of the environment. She proposed a general mathematical framework based on the Fourier transform to describe grid cell properties under various experimental conditions. She and colleagues also suggested a theoretical model which assumed that grid cells are generated from the interaction between place and boundary cells.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Meaning: do not be afraid to be wrong both in your assumptions about how things work and sometimes wasting your time on what might at the beginning seem like ‘a very dumb idea’.