Synaptic Organization and Brain Microcircuits

The main research interest of our laboratory is in neuronal dendrites as complex integrative systems, and in the synaptic organization of neurons into microcircuits that mediate information processing within specific regions of the brain. In this work our lab has pioneered analysis of the interplay of sensory transduction, passive and active membrane properties, and synaptic microconnectivity.  

The current experimental approaches include in vitro and in vivo electrophysiology, optogenetics, and high resolution functional brain imaging.  Our lab has also pioneered the application of realistic computational modeling methods to this experimental data, to reveal mechanisms of information processing in dendritic spines, dendritic trees and cortical microcircuits.

We use mammalian olfaction as a model system for experimental and theoretical analysis because it has several distinct advantages: 

  • the olfactory bulb is one synapse from the site of sensory input, the olfactory epithelium
  • the distinct lamination and distinct neuron types of the olfactory bulb simplifies analysis of activity and connection patterns
  • the olfactory bulb is located in front of the brain, which allows access for in vivo imaging and experimental manipulations
  • the entire sequence of information processing from sensory transduction to the neocortical level of perception occurs within two synaptic relays

Through our integrative approach our lab has also been a pioneer in the development of neuroinformatics.  Beginning with the original Human Brain Project, we have developed the SenseLab Project for the construction of 8 databases to facilitate the integration of multidisciplinary data.  As examples, the database of over 14,000 olfactory receptor-like sequences serves the olfactory community, and the database of over 700 computational models serves the computational modeling community.  SenseLab is an active member of the Neuroscience Information Framework (NIF) and the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (incf).