In the infant brain, connections within and across neuronal cell populations are highly plastic.  The formation of these intricate connections is governed by both molecular cues and experience.  As the brain matures, functional brain circuits emerge and experience continues to play a central role in shaping complex networks of neural synapses, the small communication points between neurons that are modified and refined throughout life.  This synaptic plasticity serves as the neural substrate for memory, perception, and other high-level cognitive processes.  Thus, subtle disruptions to these ongoing processes in the perinatal brain could lead to profound long-term neurological and cognitive deficits.  Our overarching goal is to understand precisely how such subtle changes to brain architecture and function contribute to neurological abnormalities in infants and children.

Currently, we are using the mouse visual system as a model to pursue our research interests in understanding how neural connectivity and function are modified by experience and in elucidating mechanisms that mediate plasticity in the cerebral cortex.  In addition, we are using this model to investigate how and where axonal connectivity and brain function are disrupted by conditions that lead to diffuse white matter injury in the infant brain, which is becoming more common as the number of low birth weight infants increases.

The general approach adopted by our lab is to longitudinally monitor pre- and postsynaptic structures and neural circuit function in the intact brain of awake, behaving animals using intravital two-photon laser-scanning microscopy and in vivo electrophysiology.  As part of this effort, we are developing and implementing novel tools for labeling and monitoring populations of neural cells and their fine structure in the visual system in vivo.  It is our hope that the knowledge gained from our basic studies in neural circuit development and function will help guide the development of novel targets and/or therapies for reversing or ameliorating the effects of perinatal brain injury.