What is a neural circuit made of?: Cell-type diversity
The nervous system is spectacularly specialized, with dedicated neural circuits tailored to hear the difference between B and B#, read micro expressions on a friend's face, catch a ball, remember your childhood address, and much more. Specific neural circuits underlie each of these complex tasks, and their constituent neurons shape how information is processed to drive behavior. We are interested in how genetic programs sculpt the functional properties of each neuronal cell type, and how these properties dictate its role in the circuit.
How to they function?: Neuromodulatory circuits driving behavior
Neural circuits can be incredibly specialized for a particular task, but they must also interact with circuits diving other behaviors. Circuits that drive emotional behaviors and changes in behavioral state often involve many interrelated circuits, and are characterized by a rich repertoire of neuromodulators, such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, orexin, and many others. The habenula is one of these crossroads, where information about sleep, anxiety, pain, and motivation intersect. How does neuronal diversity allow for a separable processing of these diverse behaviors? Can we outline the pathways for each of these behaviors? We are particularly interested in the role of the habenula in modulating motivation, and how this pathway interacts with other brain areas known to process rewarding and aversive stimuli.
How are neural circuits established?: Developmental mechanisms of cell-type specificity
These complex neural circuits are established during development and refined by activity and experience. We aim to understand how this precise connectivity is generated during development, including what molecular cues instruct the formation and function of specific synapses.
How does neuromodulation and circuit dysfunction drive neuropsychiatric disorders?: Addiction and depression
Motivated behavior can be both positively (addiction) and negatively (depression) affected in neuropsychiatric disorders. We aim to understand how habenular circuits are altered in disease and how they may present novel, and potentially more specific, therapeutic targets for treating mood disorders and addiction.