Distinguished University Professor
Office: 816 Petit Science Center
Phone: (404) 413-5398
Ph.D. Cornell University 1989
Postdoctoral Training: Brandeis University
Joint appointment: Department of Biology
Director of the Center for Neuromics
Associate Editor of The Journal of Neurophysiology
We are interested in how neural circuits produce behavior. We use the numerically simple circuits of Nudipleura molluscs as our experimental preparations. The current focus of the lab is a comparative study of neuronal circuits. We have identified homologous neurons in different sea slug species that seem to serve different functions even in animals that have similar behavior. We are comparing the neurophysiological properties of these neurons and their synapses to better understand how species-specific behaviors might have evolved. We have recently begun to use gene expression to identify neurons. This may allow us to find additional homologous neurons and to express exogenous genes to manipulate behavior. We are in the process of creating a transcriptome for six species to better understand the differences in gene expression across species. We can also reshape neural circuits using artificial computer-generated synapses through a technique called dynamic clamp. We use computational modeling to further explore how the significance of species-differences in neural circuits for behavior. This research can help us formulate general theories about how neural circuits evolved to produce behavior.
Another interest in the lab is individual variability within a species. For these experiments, we use the nudibranch, Tritonia diomedea, We found that there is cryptic circuit variation even when the behavior is the same. Differences in neural circuitry become important when the animal is challenged with a neural lesion. Some individuals are less susceptible to the lesion than others. Furthermore some can recover better than others. The ability to record the strengths and changes in the connections between individual neurons before and after a lesion make this preparation important for learning general rules about cryptic circuit variations.
For more information about our research, please see the lab website.
Research in our lab is currently funded by a grant from NSF. In the past, we have been funded by NIH and the Brains & Behavior program as well.