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Research at the Volen Center

Collaborations among training faculty

The Neuroscience community in the Volen Center is a tight-knit group with many collaborative projects. This interconnected environment greatly enhances the training of our students who get broad exposure to many intellectual frameworks and experimental approaches. The extent of the collaborative environment can be seen in the publication list of the training faculty profiles.

Birren/Katz: The cholinergic system is vital for normal taste processing and taste learning, but little is known about how the cholinergic control of taste develops (an important question, as tasting and taste learning are possible well before the cholinergic system is mature). It is also not clear how this cholinergic involvement affects taste processing in real time. This collaboration builds on Birren's expertise in the developmental biology of cholinergic systems and Katz's expertise in the taste system, and has already resulted in a joint publication.

Garrity/Sengupta/Marder: A team of researchers from Brandeis and Harvard has been awarded a Program Project grant from NIGMS for 5 years (Sengupta, PI). The overall goal of this collaborative project is to identify the genetic and physiological mechanisms by which animals detect temperature changes, and how this information is translated to effect compensatory changes in circuit function to maintain behavioral robustness.

Garrity/Griffith: Garrity and Griffith have collaborated on several projects involving the warmth-gated channel dTrpA1. Griffith's electrophysiological expertise was paired with Garrity's genetic and molecular skills to show that dTrpA1 could be used as a dominant activity-modulating tool in Drosophila. This work has revolutionized behavioral studies in this organism, allowing investigators to manipulate circuits in intact animals. This work resulted in 4 papers, 3 of which were in Nature and Neuron. Garrity and Griffith are currently collaborating on a newly discovered novel family of temperature sensors, Gr28b and have just published a paper on this sensor in Nature.

Garrity/Nelson: Garrity and Nelson are collaborating to adapt dTrpA1 to the thermal profile of mammalian cells. This potentially could produce a powerful new alternative to Channelrhodopsin. The collaboration is funded by a EUREKA grant from NIH.

Griffith/Rosbash: Together these groups have begun dissecting the circuitry and molecular events underlying sleep in flies using behavioral assays based on monitor systems developed in the Rosbash lab, combined with transgenic techniques for manipulating circuit function developed in the Griffith lab. This collaboration has produced 6 publications, 3 of which are Nature Neuroscience publications.

Griffith/Turrigiano: The Griffith and Turrigiano labs share an interest in CaM-dependent kinases and have collaborated to examine the role of CaMKII in activity-dependent plasticity. This collaboration resulted in a publication in Neuron. Griffith and Turrigiano are currently developing collaborative experiments to examine the nuclear roles of the CaMK cascade effectors CaMKIV in mammals and CaMKI in flies, to dissect their role in homeostatic plasticity.

Goldstein/Sengupta: A collaboration between the Sengupta and Goldstein labs aims to investigate the roles of two pore K+ channels (TWK) in the regulation of neuronal activity in C. elegans.

Gutchess/Sekuler: Gutchess and Sekuler are collaborating on a project investigating cross-cultural differences in attention and interference using the classic Flanker paradigm to investigate how spatial location may impact the amount of interference from incompatible information.

Gutchess/Katz: This project examines cultural differences in taste preference. A recent paper has suggested that Asian and Western recipes tend to highlight different taste pairings: the former prefers ingredient pairs with no similarity in underlying flavor; the latter prefers ingredient pairs with highly overlapping flavors. They will determine whether this reflects an actual difference in preferences, or some cultural property; initial data, quite surprisingly, proves that both exist--in fact, Westerners prefer classic Asian ingredient pairings, and Asians do not.

Lackner/DiZio: Drs. Lackner and DiZio are the director and associate director of the Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Laboratory. They collaborate on projects investigating human spatial orientation, movement control, and adaptation to altered force backgrounds. Lackner and DiZio have worked together for almost 25 years and have published a very large number of joint papers, have joint grants and jointly mentor students and postdocs.

Lisman/Katz: This collaboration deals with the mechanisms of schizophrenia. In this disease, there are abnormal oscillations in the delta frequency range. One of the major theories of schizophrenia is that it is due to NMDAR hypofunction. The collaborative work tested whether blocking NMDARs in rats could produce delta oscillation in cortex, thalamus and hippocampus. It was found that NMDAR antagonist injected into the thalamus could evoke local delta oscillations that are then transmitted to the hippocampus. This work led to a publication in 2012.

Marder/Griffith: These investigators have collaborated on projects designed to bring molecular analysis to the stomatogastric ganglion preparation. Griffith cloned and characterized the Lobster CaMKII. This collaboration produced a publication. Current collaborative work is aimed at understanding how changes in activity alter intrinsic excitability. Models developed in the Marder lab will be tested genetically in Drosophila larval locomotor circuits.

Miller/Katz: The dynamics of forebrain ensemble taste responses can be described using models of networks of neurons based on dynamical systems theory. Katz and Miller are collaborating on a project in which electrophysiological data collected from awake rats is being used to guide the choice of models used to describe the neural processes underlying taste; data from these models are then used to generate hypotheses that can only be tested through further data collection. Four papers and a joint R01 have come from this project.

Miller/Turrigiano/Katz: Recent interest in criticality meshes with the need for homeostasis in the developing nervous system. The Miller lab is investigating circuit models of criticality, comparing responses of critical and non-critical circuits to the measurements used in cortical slices and in vivo by the Turrigiano/Katz labs. The goal is to ascertain what plasticity rules are needed to produce the experimentally observed network behavior.

Miller/Van Hooser: Miller and Van Hooser have a joint NIH grant and have co-advised a postdoc who is examining the mechanisms of cortical plasticity that can lead to direction selectivity in V1. Miller supervises the modeling and Van Hooser produces experimental data.

Miller/Wingfield: Miller and Wingfield are combining a subtle experimental manipulation with multilevel modeling with the goal of understanding the neural mechanisms underlying short-term memory of sequences. This work has resulted in several jointly published papers.

Nelson/Katz: This project probes the molecular underpinnings of taste learning. Conditioned taste aversion (CTA), whereby an animal learns to avoid a formerly appealing taste after it has been "paired" with illness, is unusual among classic learning & memory paradigms. Bridging this gap is likely a taste-induced molecular signal that directly interacts with later nausea-induced neural firing - a distinctly different plasticity mechanism than "cells that fire together wire together." The Nelson lab's expertise with gene expression profiling is coupled with the Katz lab's expertise with taste and taste learning.

Nelson/Rosbash: These investigators have collaborated on RNA and microRNA profiling in Drosophila and are now collaborating on studies in mammalian neurons. RNAi of dicer, drosha and pasha were used to partially block the production of mature microRNA from longer precursors. Ongoing experiments are analyzing the physiological effects of deleting dicer conditionally in neocortical interneurons and using RNA seq to profile activity dependent changes in mRNA and microRNA expression in these neurons. These investigators have published 3 papers together.

Nelson/Turrigiano: The Nelson and Turrigiano laboratories have collaborated for the past 17 years on physiological studies of synaptic plasticity in visual cortex. Collaborative experiments uncovered a novel form of homeostatic synaptic plasticity, termed "synaptic scaling". Subsequent studies have focused on the mechanisms of synaptic scaling, as well as spike-timing dependent synaptic plasticity, plasticity at inhibitory synapses, and plasticity of cortical microcircuits. This collaboration has resulted in > 20 joint publications in journals such as Nature, Neuron, Nature Neuroscience, and J. Neuroscience. Recent collaborations center around the developmental mechanisms that result in critical period plasticity in visual cortical microcircuits.

Paradis/Lau/Van Hooser: The proper formation of brain circuits during development depends on both genes and experience, and many developmental diseases of the nervous system are the result of improper gene expression or abnormal experience. This project combines the expertise of all three investigators to examine interactions between genes and experience in the formation of brain circuits. The investigators are testing the hypothesis that the normal function of Rem2 is to be a negative regulator of brain circuit plasticity.

Rodal/Paradis: These investigators have a joint postdoc working on testing predictions from the Rodal lab's work on trafficking in Drosophila in rodent cortical neurons.

Turrigiano/Katz/Van Hooser: Recent work from the Turrigiano lab has shown evidence for homeostatic mechanisms by which modification of intrinsic and synaptic conductances stabilize neural activity. The ability in the Katz lab to make chronic multielectrode recordings from cortex of awake behaving animals, and the Van Hooser expertise in the visual system, now make it possible to test the idea that neocortical neurons have a firing rate set-point in vivo.

Turrigiano/DeRosier: These investigators are collaborating on developing a new approach to imaging the protein composition of the postsynaptic density, using superresolution cryo-fluorescence of tagged synaptic proteins. This requires developing new methods for tagging and imaging synaptic proteins at cryo-temperatures. This collaboration has received funding from the McKnight Foundation as well as an NIH Pioneer award to Turrigiano, and has resulted in a patent application.