|Synapses are fundamental units of neuronal connectivity in the brain. It is at these specialized cell junctions that neurons communicate with one another. Many neuroscientists now look to the synapse for principles of learning and memory, for processes underlying behavior, and for pathogenic mechanisms of many neurological diseases. We are therefore interested in the mechanisms that regulate the process of synapse formation, plasticity and specificity.
One aspect of our research is to use the two accessible peripheral cholinergic synapses, the neuromuscular junction and the neuronal cholinergic synapse in the mouse superior cervical ganglion, as a model system to dissect the molecular mechanisms regulating synapse formation and stability. Our goals are (1) Identify and characterize factors that regulate the assembly of neuronal cholinergic synapses, including presynaptic-derived factors that initiate postsynaptic differentiation, target cell-derived factors that promote presynaptic differentiation, and intracellular pathways that mediate the assembly of the postsynaptic complex. (2) Elucidate the molecular mechanisms that determine the specificity of neuronal connectivity.
The second aspect of our research is focused on using genetic approaches in mice to dissect the molecular and cellular basis of behavior. We are particularly interested in how changes in synaptic structure and function may lead to abnormal behaviors and their relevance to mental illness. We apply a variety of mouse molecular genetic methods, such as inducible knockout mice and regional and cell type-specific knockout and transgenic mice, to elucidate the molecules, the types of neurons, and the circuits involved in generating specific behavior.
The third aspect of our research is to develop genetic tools in mice to facilitate the study of synaptic development and function in vivo.
Box 3209, DUMC