Research

Our lab focuses on a fundamental question in neuroscience:

How do neurons perform the set of signaling functions necessary for proper circuit function?

Picture1.pngThe mammalian brain is an extraordinary structure containing billions of electrically excitable cells called neurons. Individual neurons are the fundamental units of computation in the brain.

Neurons are often compared to transistors in a computer circuit, each identical in their signaling capacity. Extraordinary advances in neuronal physiological over the last half-century have changed this model. Many different classes of neurons have now been identified based on their physiological signature or ‘excitability’. This functional diversification is not random. Conversely, it is essential for proper circuit function and behavior

Our lab aims to uncover cellular and molecular mechanisms that shape excitability among different neurons. We approach these questions in intact brain circuits, using combined in vivo and ex vivo approaches in transgenic mouse models.

We focus on a family of neuronal transmembrane proteins called ion channels. Ion channel expression confers both the signaling properties and circuit role for each neuron. Thus channel expression in neurons involved with memory formation will differ from neurons important for motor coordination, etc. Interestingly, recent work has also uncovered that ion channel dysfunction may contribute to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s. 

 

Picture2.pngPerhaps the most important neuronal signaling features are action potential firing and synaptic transmission. Neurons regulate these features by spatially segregating different ion channels in the soma, dendrites, and axon. We are now beginning to understand the significance of these cellular processes in terms of circuit function and disease. To study the impact of this functional compartmentalization, we implement different optical, electrophysiological, and molecular techniques in the lab.

Finally, we are interested in understanding how different cell classes, (e.g., inhibitory neurons) utilize these excitable mechanisms to their advantage in the circuit. Knowledge gained from these studies will fuel the design of powerful, cell-type specific therapeutic approaches against neurological disorders.