My research interest lies in mapping the neural network and decoding the activity regulation of neural circuit refinement at synaptic resolution.
The complexity of an animal’s behaviors lies in the details of the circuits that connect an immense number of neurons by synapses. We cannot fully understand how the nervous system collects, processes or stores information without obtaining a much more detailed map of neural connections, as well as its relationships to neural activity. The connections between neurons are not random, but likely formed by intrinsic mechanisms and activity-dependent plasticity. This latter activity dependent process is the basis for learning and in humans a substantial portion of our behavioral repertoire comes from experience (i.e., activity) based mechanisms. There are many fundamental questions about activity dependent circuit modifications that are still poorly understood. For example, are there learning “rules” that instantiate experience into wiring as recognizable motifs? If so what are particular patterns or hierarchies of connections? Second, how might these motifs be linked to the activity patterns that presumably gave rise to them?
To address these questions it is essential that there be a means to characterize the complete connectional arrays of many individual neurons in one sample and at the same time monitor the activity patterns that flow though these arrays. However, mapping neural structure and function in a large network is quite challenging. While tools like diffusion MRI can give gross pathways, the millimeter scale resolution means it cannot resolve connections between individual neurons. On the other hand, serial electron microscopy has nanometer resolution but can only image fixed, static samples and thus provides no information of patterns of neural activity. My work is to provide a powerful approach to image the activity-dependent pre-synaptic calcium transients from all the individual neuromuscular synapses in a set of neural network. I use these tools to obtain activity maps of the neural circuit and explore the origin of the connectional pattern by comparing the activity patterns of axonal recruitment. The research will lead to a better understanding how the wiring diagram motifs of axons are shaped by neural activities - a fundamental goal of neuroscience.
I received my Ph.D. in Biophysics from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2010, and my B.S. in Physical Chemistry from Peking University (Beijing, China) in 2004.