Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology


Paul J. Finnegan Family Director, Center for Brain Science, Harvard University
Jeff C. Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Email: sanesj@mcb.harvard.edu
Phone: 617-496-8683

Mail: NW 335.30
Northwest Building
52 Oxford St
Cambridge, MA  02138

Sanes Lab Website
Members of the Sanes Lab
List of Publications from PubMed


MCB 80. Neurobiology of Behavior
Catalog Number: 6052  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term 2014-2015.
Instructors: Jeff Lichtman, Joshua Sanes
Course Level: Primarily for Undergraduates
Description: An introduction to the ways in which the brain controls mental activities. The course covers the cells and signals that process and transmit information, and the ways in which neurons form circuits that change with experience. Topics include the neurobiology of perception, learning, memory, language, emotion, and mental illness.
Note: This course, when taken for a letter grade, meets the General Education requirement for Science of Living Systems. The course is open to students with little formal training in biology.
Meetings: Tu., Th., 2:30-4
MCB 301. Synapse Formation
Catalog Number: 3935  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term And Spring Term 2014-2015.
Instructor: Joshua Sanes
Course Level: Exclusively for Graduates
NEUROBIO 311. Cellular and Molecular Studies of Synapse Formation in the Vertebrate Nervous System
Catalog Number: 0081  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term And Spring Term 2014-2015.
Instructor: Joshua Sanes
Course Level: Exclusively for Graduates
(View all MCB Courses)


Key questions in neuroscience are: how are complex neural circuits assembled in young animals and how do they process information in adults?

The retina may be the first part of the mammalian brain for which satisfactory answers to these questions will be obtained. The retina is about as complex as any other part of the brain, but it has several features that facilitate analysis: it is accessible, compact, and structurally regular, and we already know a lot about what it does.

Visual information is passed from retinal photoreceptors to interneurons to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and then on to the rest of the brain. Each of ~25 types of RGC responds to a visual feature –for example motion in a particular direction– based on which of the ~70 interneuronal types synapse on it. To understand how these circuits form, we mark retinal cell types transgenically, map their connections, seek recognition molecules that mediate their connectivity, use genetic methods to manipulate these molecules, and assess the structural and functional consequences of removing or swapping them.

As a next step, we will ask how the RGCs transfer their information to their main target, the superior colliculus. We believe that our methods and results will be useful in tackling less accessible parts of the brain such as the cerebral cortex.  


Kim IJ, Zhang Y, Yamagata M, Meister M, Sanes JR . (2008) Molecular identification of a retinal cell type that responds to upward motion. Nature 452:478-82

Yamagata M, Sanes JR . (2008) Dscam and Sidekick proteins direct lamina-specific synaptic connections in vertebrate retina. Nature 451:465-9

Sanes JR, Zipursky SL. (2010) Design principles of insect and vertebrate visual systems. Neuron 66:15-36

Zipursky SL, Sanes JR. (2010) Chemoaffinity revisited: Dscams, Protocadherins, and neural circuit assembly. Cell 143:343-53

Kay JN, Voinescu PE, Chu MW, and Sanes JR.(2011) Neurod6 expression defines novel retinal amacrine cell subtypes and regulates their fate. Nature Neuroscience 14:965-972

Kay, JN, Chu, MW, Sanes JR. (2012) Megf10 and 11 mediate homotypic interactions required for mosaic spacing of retinal neurons. Nature (2012)483:465-469

Lefebvre, JL, Kostadinov, D, Chen WV, Maniatis, T and Sanes, JR. (2012) Protocadherins Mediate Dendritic Self-Avoidance In The Mammalian Nervous System. Nature 488:517-521

updated: 10/09/2015