Professor Simon Laughlin

University position

Emeritus Professor of Neurobiology


Department of Zoology


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Research Themes

Systems and Computational Neuroscience

Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


I am interested in discovering design principles that govern the structure and function of neurons, neural circuits and sense organs. I combine an empirical approach with constraint-based modelling to see how the basic elements of circuits and sensory systems are combined to make efficient use of three limiting resources, space, materials and energy. I am currently investigating the economic benefits of circuit motifs and the ways in which the metabolic costs of photoreceptors shape entire eyes.

The high perfromance visual system of the blowfly provides unique insights into neural circuit design
The high performance visual system of the blowfly provides unique insights into neural circuit design
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Research Focus


circuit design

information processing



neural circuit

Clinical conditions

No direct clinical relevance


Computational modelling

Information theory

Natural scene statistics



Peter Sterling Web:

Associated News Items

Key publications

Sengupta B, Laughlin SB, Niven JE (2014), “Consequences of Converting Graded to Action Potentials upon Neural Information Coding and Energy Efficiency.” PLoS Comput Biol 10(1):e1003439 Details

Weckström M, Laughlin, S (2010), “Extracellular potentials modify the transfer of information at photoreceptor output synapses in the blowfly compound eye.” Journal of Neuroscience 30(28): 9557-9566

Niven JE, Anderson JC, Laughlin SB (2007), “Fly photoreceptors demonstrate energy-information trade-offs in neural coding” PLoS Biology 5(4): e116doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050116 Details

Faisal AA, White JA, Laughlin SB (2005), “Ion-channel noise places limits on the miniaturization of the brain's wiring” Current Biology 15:1143-1149 Details

Attwell D, Laughlin SB (2001), “An energy budget for signalling in the grey matter of the brain” Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism 21:1133-1145

Harris RA, O'Carroll DC, Laughlin SB (2000), “Contrast gain reduction in fly motion adaptation.” Neuron 28(2):595-606 Details

Laughlin SB, de Ruyter van Steveninck RR, Anderson JC (1998), “The metabolic cost of neural information.” Nat Neurosci 1(1):36-41 Details

O'Carroll DC, Bidwell NJ, Laughlin SB, Warrant EJ (1996), “Insect motion detectors matched to visual ecology.” Nature 382(6586):63-6 Details

Howard J, Blakeslee B, Laughlin SB (1987), “The intracellular pupil mechanism and photoreceptor signal: noise ratios in the fly Lucilia cuprina.” Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 231(1265):415-35 Details

Laughlin SB, Howard J, Blakeslee B (1987), “Synaptic limitations to contrast coding in the retina of the blowfly Calliphora.” Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 231(1265):437-67 Details

Srinivasan MV, Laughlin SB, Dubs A (1982), “Predictive coding: a fresh view of inhibition in the retina.” Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 216(1205):427-59 Details

Laughlin S (1981), “A simple coding procedure enhances a neuron's information capacity.” Z Naturforsch C 36(9-10):910-2 Details

Snyder AW, Laughlin SB, Stavenga DG (1977), “Information capacity of eyes.” Vision Res 17(10):1163-75 Details



Sengupta B, Faisal AA, Laughlin SB and Niven JE (2013), “The effect of cell size and channel density on neuronal information encoding and energy efficiency. ” J Cereb Blood Flow Metab 9: 1465–1473

Sengupta B, Faisal AA, Laughlin SB, Niven JE (2013), “The effect of cell size and channel density on neuronal information encoding and energy efficiency.” J Cereb Blood Flow Metab 33(9):1465-73 Details

Sengupta B, Laughlin SB and Niven JE. (2013), “Balanced excitatory and inhibitory synaptic currents promote efficient coding and metabolic efficiency” PLoS Comput Biol 9(10): e1003263

Sengupta B, Laughlin SB, Niven JE (2013), “Balanced excitatory and inhibitory synaptic currents promote efficient coding and metabolic efficiency.” PLoS Comput Biol 9(10):e1003263 Details


Fain GL, Hardie R, Laughlin SB (2010), “Phototransduction and the evolution of photoreceptors.” Curr Biol 20(3):R114-24 Details

Niven JE, Buckingham CJ, Lumley S, Cuttle MF, Laughlin SB (2010), “Visual targeting of forelimbs in ladder-walking locusts.” Curr Biol 20(1):86-91 Details

Parsons MM, Krapp HG, Laughlin SB (2010), “Sensor fusion in identified visual interneurons.” Curr Biol 20(7):624-8 Details

Sengupta B, Laughlin SB, Niven JE (2010), “Comparison of Langevin and Markov channel noise models for neuronal signal generation.” Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys 81(1 Pt 1):011918 Details

Sengupta B, Stemmler M, Laughlin SB, Niven JE (2010), “Action potential energy efficiency varies among neuron types in vertebrates and invertebrates.” PLoS Comput Biol 6:e1000840 Details

Weckström M, Laughlin S (2010), “Extracellular potentials modify the transfer of information at photoreceptor output synapses in the blowfly compound eye.” J Neurosci 30(28):9557-66 Details


Niven JE, Laughlin SB (2008), “Energy limitation as a selective pressure on the evolution of sensory systems.” J Exp Biol 211(Pt 11):1792-804 Details

Okawa H, Sampath AP, Laughlin SB, Fain GL (2008), “ATP consumption by mammalian rod photoreceptors in darkness and in light.” Curr Biol 18(24):1917-21 Details


Faisal AA, Laughlin SB (2007), “Stochastic simulations on the reliability of action potential propagation in thin axons.” PLoS Comput Biol 3(5):e79 Details

Nawroth JC, Greer CA, Chen WR, Laughlin SB, Shepherd GM (2007), “An energy budget for the olfactory glomerulus.” J Neurosci 27(36):9790-800 Details


Parsons MM, Krapp HG, Laughlin SB (2006), “A motion-sensitive neurone responds to signals from the two visual systems of the blowfly, the compound eyes and ocelli.” J Exp Biol 209(Pt 22):4464-74 Details


Neri P, Laughlin SB (2005), “Global versus local adaptation in fly motion-sensitive neurons.” Proc Biol Sci 272(1578):2243-9 Details

Tan S, Amos W, Laughlin SB (2005), “Captivity selects for smaller eyes.” Curr Biol 15(14):R540-2 Details


Burton BG, Laughlin SB (2003), “Neural images of pursuit targets in the photoreceptor arrays of male and female houseflies Musca domestica.” J Exp Biol 206(Pt 22):3963-77 Details

Laughlin SB, Sejnowski TJ (2003), “Communication in neuronal networks.” Science 301(5641):1870-4 Details


Laughlin SB (2002), “Retinal function: coupling cones clarifies vision.” Curr Biol 12(24):R833-4 Details

Schreiber S, Machens CK, Herz AV, Laughlin SB (2002), “Energy-efficient coding with discrete stochastic events.” Neural Comput 14(6):1323-46 Details


Burton BG, Tatler BW, Laughlin SB (2001), “Variations in photoreceptor response dynamics across the fly retina.” J Neurophysiol 86(2):950-60 Details

Dror RO, O'Carroll DC, Laughlin SB (2001), “Accuracy of velocity estimation by Reichardt correlators.” J Opt Soc Am A Opt Image Sci Vis 18(2):241-52 Details

Laughlin SB (2001), “Energy as a constraint on the coding and processing of sensory information.” Curr Opin Neurobiol 11(4):475-80 Details

Laughlin SB (2001), “Efficiency and complexity in neural coding.” Novartis Found Symp 239:177-87; discussion 187-92, 234-40 Details

Vorobyev M, Brandt R, Peitsch D, Laughlin SB, Menzel R (2001), “Colour thresholds and receptor noise: behaviour and physiology compared.” Vision Res 41(5):639-53 Details


Anderson JC, Laughlin SB (2000), “Photoreceptor performance and the co-ordination of achromatic and chromatic inputs in the fly visual system.” Vision Res 40(1):13-31 Details

Hornstein EP, O'Carroll DC, Anderson JC, Laughlin SB (2000), “Sexual dimorphism matches photoreceptor performance to behavioural requirements.” Proc Biol Sci 267(1457):2111-7 Details

Tatler B, O'Carroll DC, Laughlin SB (2000), “Temperature and the temporal resolving power of fly photoreceptors.” J Comp Physiol A 186(4):399-407 Details


Harris RA, O'Carroll DC, Laughlin SB (1999), “Adaptation and the temporal delay filter of fly motion detectors.” Vision Res 39(16):2603-13 Details

Laughlin SB (1999), “Visual motion: dendritic integration makes sense of the world.” Curr Biol 9(1):R15-7 Details


O'Carroll DC, Laughlin SB, Bidwell NJ, Harris RA (1997), “Spatio-temporal properties of motion detectors matched to low image velocities in hovering insects.” Vision Res 37(23):3427-39 Details


de Ruyter van Steveninck RR, Laughlin SB (1996), “Light adaptation and reliability in blowfly photoreceptors.” Int J Neural Syst 7(4):437-44 Details

Laughlin SB (1996), “Matched filtering by a photoreceptor membrane.” Vision Res 36(11):1529-41 Details


Weckström M, Laughlin SB (1995), “Visual ecology and voltage-gated ion channels in insect photoreceptors.” Trends Neurosci 18(1):17-21 Details


Laughlin SB (1992), “Retinal information capacity and the function of the pupil.” Ophthalmic Physiol Opt 12(2):161-4 Details


Hardie RC, Voss D, Pongs O, Laughlin SB (1991), “Novel potassium channels encoded by the Shaker locus in Drosophila photoreceptors.” Neuron 6(3):477-86 Details

Weckström M, Hardie RC, Laughlin SB (1991), “Voltage-activated potassium channels in blowfly photoreceptors and their role in light adaptation.” J Physiol 440:635-57 Details


van Hateren JH, Laughlin SB (1990), “Membrane parameters, signal transmission, and the design of a graded potential neuron.” J Comp Physiol A 166(4):437-48 Details


Laughlin SB (1989), “The role of sensory adaptation in the retina.” J Exp Biol 146:39-62 Details


Miller WH, Laughlin SB (1983), “Light-mediated cyclic GMP hydrolysis controls important aspects of kinetics of retinal rod voltage response.” Biophys Struct Mech 9(4):269-76 Details


Laughlin SB, Lillywhite PG (1982), “Intrinsic noise in locust photoreceptors.” J Physiol 332:25-45 Details


Dubs A, Laughlin SB, Srinivasan MV (1981), “Single photon signals in fly photoreceptors and first order interneurones at behavioral threshold.” J Physiol 317:317-34 Details


Lillywhite PG, Laughlin SB (1979), “Transducer noise in a photoreceptor.” Nature 277(5697):569-72 Details


Laughlin S, McGinness S (1978), “The structures of dorsal and ventral regions of a dragonfly retina.” Cell Tissue Res 188(3):427-47 Details


Laughlin SB (1975), “Receptor and interneuron light-adaptation in the dragonfly visual system.” Z Naturforsch C 30(2):306-8 Details


Laughlin SB (1974), “Resistance changes associated with the response of insect monopolar neurons.” Z Naturforsch C 29(7-8):449-50 Details