The focus of the lab is to understand how simple neural-muscular circuits are assembled, and how the behavioral outputs of those circuits are controlled by the external environment and the physiological state of the organism. We use the round worm C. elegans to dissect the cellular and molecular regulation that control feeding and sexual reproduction in both sexes.
Projects in the lab use classical forward genetics, modern reverse genetics, transgenics, molecular biology, biochemistry, optogenetics, laser surgery, calcium imaging and pharmacology:
- To identify neural-muscular circuits that regulate sex-specific motivated behaviors.
- To determine what combination of molecules (such as ion channels, kinases and G-protein-coupled receptors) regulates the excitability of circuit components used in motivated behaviors.
- To understand how stress, age and nutritional conditions control the function of these molecular regulators of cell excitability.
Sensory-motor/cognitive behaviors in all multi-cellular organisms are produced by molecular interactions that regulate neuronal or muscle excitability.
In higher organisms, accumulation of molecular defects in neuromuscular circuits can impair motor tasks (for example epilepsy, ataxia and muscle seizures) or motivational control (for example attention deficient, mania/depression, compulsive behaviors).
Behaviors are modulated by parallel signaling pathways and redundant cellular circuit connections. Understanding behavioral network function in “esoteric” detail allows manipulation of the system to compensate for defects as an animal becomes older or is exposed to different environmental situations.