lab uses multiple animal models to understand how the architecture and function of sensory system meets the behavioral demands of the animal
, which are majorly shaped by the body and its movements.
One of our main goals is to understand how neural circuits transform the visual signals that arrive at the retina into information used by downstream circuits to 'see' and to 'act'. Our other main goal is to understand how the information encoded in visual circuits is shaped by an animal's particular movements. This understanding is pivotal to discovering how visuomotor circuits become optimized to the unique demands of individual animals, including humans. We use in vivo two-photon imaging, electrophysiology, high-throughput behavioral monitoring and mathematical modeling to understand the structure and function of visual circuits, and how they are shaped by bodily movements. In a subset of projects, we
sensors worn by the animal to record the actual environmental inputs that the various biological sensors, like the eye, receive during natural behaviors. We take advantage of recent progress in behavioral quantification techniques to understand how sensory inputs differ during different movement behaviors, and how the brain takes advantage of these differences. Our work will contribute to understanding sensory processing in a manner more faithful to our experience as moving animals.
Rats and tree shrews, who move and see differently, will serve as our model organisms. Rats are about the size of a tree shrew, so using them instead of mice reduces some confounds related to brain and body size, but preserves the advantage that mice offer regarding how much we already know about the visuomotor circuits and behaviors. Other than size, tree shrews are pretty different from rats. They're something between a squirrel, a monkey, and a rodent. Evolutionarily, they are the closest living relative of primates. Most importantly for our lab, they are visual and movement specialists! However, we know relatively little about their viusomotor system and behavior, so there is a lot to discover! Also, fun fact: they have the highest encephalization quotient (brain to body mass ratio) of any mammal. A comparative approach across species with different visual abilities and movement patterns gives us the amazing ability to leverage evolution to understand how behavioral demands influence the structure and function of the sensory system.