My lab uses mouse trigeminal sensory motor system as a model to define the neural circuits for encoding and processing both touch and pain sensory information, sensorimotor integration and motor control of active touch.
Functional assembly of the tactile neural circuit by trigeminal neurons.
Rodents use whiskers as their tactile sensors. Each individual whisker is innervated by several different subtypes of mechanosensory neurons that each can sense subtle differences in amplitude, velocity, orientation, duration etc of a touch stimulus. All neurons representing the same whisker project together to form a synaptic structure in the brain termed barrelette. We are in the process of genetically labeling distinct types of mechanosensory neurons to trace their synaptic inputs into the barrelette unit. The goal is to understand the integration and coding of touch information.
Neural circuits underlying orofacial pain processing.
Trigeminal nociceptive sensory neurons detect painful stimuli experienced by the face and mouth. We are interested in dissecting the brainstem neural circuits involved in processing pain information. Of particular interest to us is the inhibitory circuits that prevent pain sensory transmission, as maladaptive changes in such circuits could lead to dis-inhibition and thus chronic orofacial pain. We are combining the use of various Cre-driver lines with neurotropic viruses to dissect the connectivity formed between sensory afferents and distinct types of brainstem neurons.
Neural circuits controlling orofacial motor behaviors.
Trigeminal sensory neurons provide sensory feedback to coordinate a diverse array of orofacial motor behaviors such as rhythmic whisking, chewing, vocalization, as well as reflex behaviors such as eye blinking and sneezing. We are interested in dissecting the sensorimotor circuits that control these orofacial behaviors with the goal of understanding how different movement patterns are generated. We are employing modern transsynaptic tracing techniques and molecular genetics to functionally map these circuits.