Our goal is to understand how neurons form the complex circuits that underlie our mental abilities. We study this problem in the retina, a thin sheet of neural tissue located at the back of the eye which contains several neural circuits arranged in parallel. Each circuit begins with a photoreceptor, which is a photon detector, each ends with a particular retinal ganglion cell (RGC), which are feature detectors. There are ~30 types of RGCs and each is specialized to detect a unique feature in the visual scene such as edges, motion, color and so on. RGCs are thought to be endowed with their feature preferences because of synapses they receive from a very specific subset of interneuron types (~100 types). We want to learn how particular interneurons and RGCs choose to synapse selectively with each other during circuit assembly. We want to understand the factors that direct these synaptic choices and, ultimately, we want to understand the consequences of these early wiring events for mature circuit function. What we learn from these studies will help us draw links between circuitry, wiring genes and function and inform future studies at the subsequent levels of the visual pathway and higher circuits in the brain
To learn how neural circuits become wired we ask how developing retinal neurons choose to synapse with just a few of the many (100s) of available synaptic targets. We are led by the hypothesis that synaptic partners use molecular recognition systems to identify each other and form connections.
Circuits formed by a precise mixture of interneuron and RGC types are capable of detecting particular visual features such as motion direction. We seek to define interneuron-RGC wiring patterns and relate these patterns to feature detection.
Higher visual circuitry
How does the brain use the eye's message? We are eager to leverage our insights and tools from the retina to study the next levels of visual processing in the brain.