Understanding Neural Circuits in Health and Disease
Our brain consists of many different neuron types with diverse molecular, morphological, and electrophysiological properties. These cells are wired in specific ways to carry out a diverse array of computational and behavioral functions. A necessary step in engineering and repairing neural circuits is to be able to directly manipulate the properties of individual neural circuit components. The goal of my laboratory in the next few years will consist of a combination of technology development, guided by the ultimate goal of being able to precisely perturb and control any component in the nervous system, and applications employing these technologies to understand neural circuits in cognitive function and disease. We will carry out research in the following three areas.
1. Developing technologies to enable identification and targeted perturbation (activity, connection, and genomes) of specific cell types and circuits in the brain. These methods will help us introduce both reporters (e.g. GFP, RFP) and actuators (e.g. light sensitive ion channels) into neurons to probe the causal role of specific neural circuits in behavior.
2. Identification of neural circuit components and their roles in normal behavior and neuropsychiatric disease. We will use a combination of circuit-specific perturbation tools to and behavioral analysis to identify neural circuits underlying specific behavior and disease processes.
3. Understanding the epigenetic changes involved in neural circuit function. Very little is known about the specific epigenetic changes that occurs within specific neural circuits involved in memory acquisition and recall. We will use genome-wide epigenetic analysis to look at the epigenetic changes within specific cell populations and circuits to understand the role epigenetic changes in memory. Understanding these epigenetic changes will be essential for developing treatments for neuropsychiatric diseases. We will also test specific epigenetic changes and their associated molecular targets to determine their roles in memory and learning.