Santiago Ramón y Cajal Professor of Arts and Sciences
Administrative Contact: Suzanne Montgomery (email@example.com)
We are interested in the way in which experience instantiates itself into the physical structure of neural circuits, that is the physical underpinning of long lasting memory. During mammalian development synaptic connectivity changes dramatically as axons trim many of the synaptic branches and target cells loose many of their synaptic partners while at the same time the subset of connections that remain become stronger. It is possible that these changes underlie the way experience selects from a broad range of synaptic connections a small subset to underlie a long lasting trace of an experience. Our work argues that competition between the neurons that co-innervate the same target cells in development may drive these changes in connectivity. The lab studies circuit formation and rearrangement by visualizing peripheral (motor and autonomic) synaptic circuits directly in living animals. These studies take advantage of transgenic animals in which we express different colored fluorescent proteins in each cell (Brainbow). In addition we have developed automated tools to map neural connections (connectomics) at nanometer resolution using a new method of serial electron microscopy. This latter approach gives of a means of revealing neural circuit motifs throughout the nervous system.
About Professor Lichtman
Jeff Lichtman is Jeremy R. Knowles Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard. He received an AB from Bowdoin (1973), and an M.D. and Ph.D. from Washington University (1980) where he worked for 30 years before moving to Cambridge in 2004. He is a member of the newly established Center for Brain Science. Lichtman’s research interest revolves around the question of how mammalian brain circuits are physically altered by experiences, especially in early life. He has focused on the dramatic re-wiring of neural connections that takes place in early postnatal development when animals are doing most of their learning. This work has required development of techniques such as “Brainbow” transgenic mice to visualize neural connections and monitor how they are altered over time. Recently his efforts have focused on developing new electron microscopy methods to map the entire wiring diagram of the developing and adult brain. This "connectomics" approach has as one of its aims uncovering the ways information is stored in neural networks.
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