I started my independent research group from August 2014 in the Department of Biology at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. Our fundamental goal is to understand how neurons communicate in circuits to establish an appropriate level of activity that produces a robust, stable behavior. Our approach is to analyze in detail a model neural circuit that controls egg-laying behavior in C. elegans. We are taking advantage of the optical clarity and powerful genetics in this experimental system to literally watch the activity of every cell in the circuit in behaving animals using fluorescent Ca2+ reporters, and also to manipulate their activity using optogenetic tools. Using mutations and transgenes to discover and alter molecular signaling events between cells, we are determining how the complex pattern of activity in a circuit creates a coherent, regulated behavior. We expect these studies will reveal general principles of neurotransmitter signaling and neural circuit function with applications to understanding the human nervous system and its dysfunction in disease.
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