The brain has the incredible ability to process and store experience in interconnected ensembles of neurons. During a novel experience, new information can be stored by altering either the synaptic connectivity or the strength of existing synapses, termed synaptic plasticity. Impairments to these mechanisms are associated with many neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases.
Despite the wealth of knowledge accumulated over the years investigating mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, very little is known about excitatory and inhibitory synaptic remodeling in the mammalian brain in vivo. This is partly because we lacked tools to visualize synapses in living animals. With the advent of multi-photon microscopy and fluorescence labeling techniques, it has now become possible to visualize the dynamics of synapses in the intact brain of living animals through a glass cranial window.
My research program will investigate how molecules, circuits and neuronal ensemble activity influence plasticity of excitatory and inhibitory synapses. We will study these mechanisms in neurons of sensory and association cortices in the context of memory storage, and how they are disrupted in genetically tractable mouse models of disease. To achieve this we will use a variety of state of the art approaches, such as single neuron genetic manipulations, in vivo synaptic labeling and multi-color two photon imaging.