How cells differentiate and come together to form functional connections are fundamental questions in modern neuroscience. Several groups are using molecular and genetic approaches to investigate axonal guidance and cellular specification in the developing nervous system.  Greg Bashaw is studying how axons navigate the ventral midline in Drosophila.  Jonathan Raper studies mechanisms of axonal guidance in the developing olfactory system of the zebrafish.  Wenqin Luo is defining extrinsic signals and transcriptional factors that determine the identities and functional properties of somatosensory neurons in the peripheral nervous system of mice.


The organization and function of neural circuits lies at the heart of our understanding of brain function.  Michael Nusbaum uses anatomical, physiological and computational modeling approaches in a small, well-defined sensorimotor system to understand how neuromodulation enables the remarkably large number of degrees of freedom intrinsic to neural circuits that underlie behavior.  Brian Salzberg and Ana Lia Obaid are developing advanced imaging techniques to study synaptic transmitter release and circuit function.  Michael Freed and Rob Smith study neurons in the retina, how they are connected, and how they work together to accomplish the earliest stages of visual processing.  Diego Contreras explores how neurons of the visual cortex come to have their selective response properties.  Diego Contreras also studies the involvement of oscillatory activity in information coding in cortical and thalamocortical networks.  John Dani studies plasticity mechanisms associated with circuitry of mainly the hippocampus and midbrain dopamine centers. Various in vivo and in vitro neurophysiology recording approaches are used to understand the circuitry contributing to behavioral outcomes.  Minghong Ma is investigating olfactory information coding and respiration driven brain activity in mammals.  Marc Fuccillo uses electrophysiology, operant behavioral paradigms and molecular-viral techniques to understand how striatal circuits modulate decision-making in mice.  Matthew Kayser uses the model system Drosophila to dissect the neural circuit logic underpinning gating of complex behaviors in early life.


Our knowledge of neural development and function can help us understand neurological diseases and inspire potential therapies for them. Jon Lindstrom studies the structure and function of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors with an interest in developing drugs for smoking cessation, and is also developing a specific immunosuppressive therapy for the autoimmune response to muscle nicotinic receptors that causes myasthenia gravis.  Mariella De Biasi and John Dani both study mechanisms of addiction and alcohol abuse.  Sandra Maday studies the mechanisms of autophagy in maintaining neuronal homeostasis and how quality control pathways are altered in neurodegenerative disease.  


In the ultimate analysis, our goal is to explain how neural circuits generate behavior.  Amita Sehgal and Xiangzhong Zheng are examining the molecular basis of behavior, especially circadian rhythms and sleep in the fly and mammalian nervous systems.  Marc Fuccillo employs a range of techniques to study motor behaviors - from the regulation of activity and simple motor learning to cognitive control of motor output.  John Dani uses a wide range of behavioral approaches while simultaneously applying in vivo recording techniques, including microdialysis, tetrode unit recordings, and field recordings while specifically controlling neural circuitry with optogenetics and DREADDS.  Joshua Gold studies mechanisms that are responsible for the effects of learning on goal-directed behaviors in human and non-human primates.  Matthew Kayser uses the model system Drosophila to dissect the neural, molecular, and genetic logic underpinning the gating of complex behaviors (sleep, aggression) in early life.  Michael Platt investigates the biological mechanisms that allow people and other animals to make decisions when the environment is ambiguous or complicated by the presence of other individuals. He applies a broad array of techniques, including single neuron recordings, microstimulation, neuropharmacology, eye tracking, brain imaging, and genomics to answer these questions.