Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology; Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience Leadership Chair; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Director, Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience
Genetic dissection of neural circuits controlling emotional behaviors
Anne P. and Benjamin F. Biaggini Professor of Biological Sciences
My goal is to understand how large circuits of neurons work. By "circuit" I mean a brain structure with many neurons that has some anatomical and functional identity, and exchanges signals with other brain circuits. "Understanding" such a neural circuit will require answers to the following:
What does the circuit do? Find the function that relates the inputs to the outputs of this part of the brain.
How does it do that thing? Spell out the mechanism behind this computation in terms of signals flowing through neurons and synapses.
Why does the circuit do that? Explain how the functions of this circuit fit into the larger brain and relate its role to the animal's behavior.
For some time the lab's focus was on circuits for visual processing, in particular retina and superior colliculus. We have also worked on circuits for olfaction. I maintain an interest in these sensory areas, but our current research has turned toward problems that are comparatively less well understood: (1) Mechanisms of rapid learning: Animals can learn a complex sequence of actions after just one or a few successful episodes. (2) Task control: Many behaviors require a rapid switching between different tasks. How is that coordinated?
In all these pursuits, we try to use the full toolkit of modern neuroscience: electrophysiology, optophysiology, molecular genetics, psychophysics, theory and modeling.