The brain contains billions of cells called neurons that wire together to construct an amazingly complicated circuit. During brain development, neurons form synapses, which are specialized inter-neuronal connections crucial for sending and receiving information. Without synapses, our brains would be useless! In theory, synapses can form wherever one neuron contacts another neuron but, in actuality, synapses only form at a fraction of these sites. This feature generates specificity in neural circuits and is essential for the proper function of the brain. Although we know that specific neural pathways exist, still very little is know about how these specific pathways form during early brain development and what happens (i.e. how would your behavior be modified) if these pathways form incorrectly. Understanding this is the focus of our lab and our experiments are aimed at understanding two main questions.
First, how do neurons recognize their appropriate synaptic partners during development?
Second, once an appropriate partner neuron has been identified what signals allow the correct type of synapse to be built?
To accomplish these scientific goals, the lab uses a variety of molecular techniques including transgenics, viruses, biochemistry, light and EM microscopy.