Like other members of the Lichtman lab, I am interested in studying the way learning and development are physically instantiated in the nervous system. The establishment of long-term memories that constitute development or learning is thought to correspond to refinements in the connections made between synapses in neural circuits.
In particular, I am interested in understanding the way that this synapse rearrangement proceeds during normal development in the cerebellum. The cerebellum is a subsystem of the central nervous system that shows very stereotyped, dramatic rearrangement of synapses. This makes it an ideal system to study in order to understand how this process occurs in centers of higher learning and memory. In order to acquire images of the process with enough spatial resolution to unequivocally identify synapses, I am using serial-section electron microscopy to reconstruct large blocks of cerebellar tissue from mice, at various distinct points along the time course of postnatal development. In addition to using this data to infer features of the mechanisms that underlie synapse rearrangement in the cerebellum, I would like to compare the structural changes in cerebellar circuits with those observed in peripheral nervous system circuits, for which a large amount of observational data exists. My hope is to determine to what extent the mechanisms guiding rearrangement are similar in these two very different parts of the nervous system.