Steve Prescott

Neuroscience Platform


Program in Neuroscience & Mental Health, The Hospital for Sick Children, Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, 686 Bay Street, Rm 06.9705, Toronto, Ontario Canada M5G 0A4
Research Interests
Computational neuroscience (neural coding, dynamical systems theory, information theory), neuronal excitability, synaptic transmission, pain processing.
Fellows, Graduates, Summer Students

Degrees: MDCM, PhD

Program in Neurosciences & Mental Health, The Hospital for Sick Children (Scientist)
Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Toronto (Full Member)
Department of Anesthesiology, University of Pittsburgh (Adjust Assistant Professor)

Courses Taught:


Research Synopsis


Keywords: action potential, calcium imaging, computer simulations, dynamic clamp, electrophysiology, excitability, mathematical biology, neural networks, pain, sensory physiology, synaptic transmission, synchrony.

Detailed Description: Our research focuses on how neurons and neural circuits process information. Interests include but are not limited to how neural processing impacts pain perception, especially how aberrations in that processing contribute to chronic pain. Our approach is an integrative one designed to address the challenges posed by biological complexity. A system is complex because of nonlinearities. Nonlinearities arise when components of a system (e.g. ion channels within a neuron, or neurons within a network) compete, cooperate, or interfere with one another. A nonlinear system is not the sum of its parts – this has crucial implications for the applicability of reductionist approaches. We therefore combine nonlinear dynamical analysis with computer simulations and experiments in order to decipher how system components normally interact and how those interactions go awry under pathological conditions. Experimental methods include various forms of electrophysiology (ranging from dynamic clamp to multielectrode recordings in vivo), calcium imaging and photostimulation (i.e. optogenetics) in various tissue preparations spanning from peripheral nerve endings in the skin to the neocortex.


Cell and tissue culture: brain slice, primary hippocampal cell culture, neurons.

Procedures: Behavioural tests, electrophysiology, in-vitro electrophysiology, in-vivo electrophysiology, patch clamp, signal transduction characterization, stereotaxic brain surgery, voltage clamp.


Acoustic Startle Chamber, amplifier, analytical balances, benchtop centrifuge, calcium imaging system, confocal microscope, culture hood, culture incubators, dissecting microscope, electrophysiology rig, fluorescence microscope, fresh tissue sectioning systems, micropipette puller, mini vortexer, motorized micromanipulators, pressure osmometer, stimulator, stirrer/hot plate, von Frey hairs, water baths.


Stephanie Ratté
Kwan Lee
Petri Takkala
Dhekra Al-Basha
Milad Lankarany


Yves De, Koninck Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Québec, U. Laval, Canada
Erik De Schutter, Computational Neurosciences Unit, Okinawa Inst. Of Science and Technology, Japan
Terry Sejnowski, Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, Salk Inst., USA


Recent Publications


Zhu Y, Feng B, Schwartz ES, Gebhart GF, Prescott SA. Novel method to assess axonal excitability using channelrhodopsin-based photoactivation. J. Neurophysiol. 2015; 113: 2242-2249.

Ratté S, Lankarany M, Rho YA, Patterson A, Prescott SA. Subthreshold membrane currents confer distinct tuning properties that enable neurons to encode the integral or derivative of their input. Front. Cell. Neurosci. 2014; 8: 452.

Ratté S, Zhu Y, Lee KY, Prescott SA. Criticality and degeneracy in injury-induced changes in primary afferent excitability and the implications for neuropathic pain. eLife 2014; 3:e02370.

Prescott SA, Ma Q, De Koninck Y. Normal and abnormal coding of painful sensations. Nat. Neurosci. 2014; 17: 183-191.

Ratté S, Hong SH, De Schutter E, Prescott SA. Impact of neuronal properties on network coding: roles of spike initiation dynamics and robust synchrony transfer. Neuron 2013; 78: 758-772.

Prescott SA, Ratté S. Pain processing by spinal microcircuits: afferent combinatorics. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 2012; 22: 631-639