Area(s) of Expertise
- Behavioral Genetics, Behavioral Neurobiology, Biogenic Amine Signaling
I am interested in understanding how the nervous system directs the flow of information necessary to orchestrate complex behaviors. Despite the current understanding that sensorimotor circuits function through the action of transmitters and modulators, we have a limited understanding of how the nervous system recruits the neurons and neural circuits necessary to produce a coordinated behavior.
My graduate and postdoctoral research aimed to uncover how the nervous system coordinates complex behavior using the escape response in the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, as a paradigm. C. elegans exhibits a robust escape behavior in response to touch. I identified a novel tyramine-gated chloride channel, LGC-55, whose activation by the biogenic amine tyramine coordinates motor programs essential for escape. Furthermore, I found that changing the electrical nature of a synapse within the neural circuit for escape behavior can reverse its behavioral output, indicating that the C. elegans connectome is established independent of the nature of synaptic activity or behavior. My work identified tyramine as a neurotransmitter and completed the neural circuit from sensory input to complex motor output of the C. elegans escape response, as well as showed how the interactions between transmitters and ion channels precisely regulate neural circuit activity in the execution of a complex behavior.