Department News




Ryunosuke Amo 

Naoshige Uchida lab

Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellowship
Project title: Elucidating the neural circuit mechanism underlying prediction error computation in dopamine neurons
Amo’s research focuses on characterizing how dopaminergic neurons in the VTA (ventral tegmental area) of the brain compute information to facilitate effective learning. One of the primary theories of learning is that, when a given outcome does not match the predicted expectation, the brain recognizes the mismatch as “prediction error” and modifies its expectations in response. Dopaminergic neurons are thought to generate the prediction error signal by taking in and analyzing information from variety of areas, but how prediction error is computed in the neural circuit is largely unknown. Amo will combine genetic manipulation of the neural circuit with selective measurement of dopaminergic neuronal activity in mice to elucidate the mechanism of basic learning and, eventually, understand the pathophysiology of mental disorders caused by dopamine system malfunctions, such as addiction and depression.



Armin Bahl

Florian Engert lab

Human Frontier Science Project Fellowship

Project title: Neural networks for decision-making and action selection under sensory uncertainty in larval zebrafish
Bahl’s research focuses on the computational principles of decision-making. Animals must constantly filter relevant information out of the abundance of conflicting sensory cues they encounter in the natural world and respond with appropriate behavioral actions in order to survive. However, the mechanisms of integration and evaluation that are required for this crucial process remains poorly understood, in any organism. A promising strategy of performing large-scale explorations of the hierarchical and parallel processing steps within neuronal assemblies in different parts of the nervous system has been employed in primates, but could only focus on confined brain regions due to technical limitations. Bahl will adapt concepts from the primate studies to investigate brain-wide sensory processing in the larval zebrafish, whose robust visual behaviors and transparency makes it an ideal candidate for state-of-the-art whole-brain imaging techniques with cellular resolution. Using these powerful tools, he will perform unprecedentedly detailed investigations into the general principles of how nervous systems extract features from a complex sensory world, integrate information, deal with ambiguous signals, make decisions, and generate behavioral actions.



Alexandre Bisson

Ethan Garner lab

Brazilian CNPq Agency Science without Borders Fellowship
Project title: Elucidating the bacterial cell division: protein dynamics and single particle tracking of the Bacillus subtilis division components
Bisson is primarily focused on understanding how individual components of the bacterial division machinery behave on the molecular level over time, and how these collective dynamics ultimately create the cell wall that differentiates one dividing cell into two identical daughter cells. Cytokinesis ensures that chromosomes and other cellular components are correctly distributed into the next generation of cells, but exactly how that complex process is coordinated is not fully understood. Using state-of-the-art microscopy and biochemistry, Bisson’s research aims to elucidate not only the mechanisms of cytokinesis, but also how this process senses both cell shape and elongation along with DNA replication.



Vassilis Bitsikas

Alex Schier and Steve Wilson labs

Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship

Project title: Resolving the functions of uncharacterised signaling proteins using zebrafish
Bitsikas wants to understand how molecular signals between cells orchestrate the development of the brain, the most complex organ in the vertebrate body. Recent advances in sequencing technology have identified novel signaling molecules that regulate embryogenesis. Bitsikas will expand these studies into zebrafish and investigate the function of previously uncharacterized signaling proteins during nervous system development, which he expects will provide new insights into brain development, physiology, and behavior. Genomic and molecular work will be carried out in the laboratory of Alex Schier (Harvard University) and neurodevelopmental and neuroanatomical work in the laboratory of Steve Wilson (UCL).



Yuichi Makino

Takao Hensch lab

Uehara Memorial Foundation Research Fellowship
Project Title: Developmental mechanisms for the formation of attention and cognition
Makino is investigating how higher brain functions, such as attention, cognition, learning, and memory, are established as the brain develops after birth. He is particularly interested in the molecular factors that regulate the different contributions of various types of neurons (including excitatory neurons, inhibitory neurons, and neuromodulatory neurons) to produce the optimal activity of the neuronal circuits underlying these complex cognitive functions. His research employs a combination of molecular and cellular biology, behavioral experiments, and in vivo electrophysiology to evaluate the brains of mice that are able to move about freely, which will produce results more akin to those found in normal conditions.



Jessica Osterhout

Catherine Dulac lab

Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellowship
Project title: Molecular and genetic dissection of neuronal cell types and circuits controlling thermoregulation and fever
Osterhout’s research will investigate thermoregulatory brain circuits in mice to understand how changes in body temperature control animal behavior. Thermoregulation is fundamental for survival: even slight changes in body temperature have a dramatic effect on vital processes such as sleep, appetite, and thirst, and patients whose temperatures are elevated due to a fever often become fatigued, antisocial, and exhibit other sickness-related behaviors. Specific brain areas are thought to control body temperature by triggering various mechanisms that produce or dissipate heat, but how thermoregulatory neurons modulate thermoadaptive and other behaviors is unknown. Osterhout will use recently developed tools for genetic profiling and circuit analysis to molecularly identify these neurons and map their connectivity patterns, thereby gaining new insight into how they regulate homeostatic and social processes in the brain.



Bushra Raj

Alex Schier lab

Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship
Project title: Transcriptomic analysis of functionally distinct neuron subtypes in zebrafish

Raj’s research aims to identify gene expression signatures of single cells in the zebrafish brain in a high-throughput manner to identify distinct cell populations and further investigate their functional properties. The relatively compact size of the zebrafish brain, along with the availability of a wealth of genetic, functional, and imaging tools, make it an attractive model system to explore these questions and gain insight into the cellular and molecular complexity of vertebrate brains. Using single-cell RNA sequencing and bioinformatic analysis, Raj hopes to better characterize neuron populations based on their transcription profiles and lineage relationships, and subsequently investigate the activities of identified populations using various functional assays.

(l to r) Bushra Raj, Ryunosuke Amo, Jessica Osterhout, and Vassilis Bitsikas

(l to r) Bushra Raj, Ryunosuke Amo, Jessica Osterhout, and Vassilis Bitsikas