Environmental Regulation of
Neuronal Development and Plasticity
Although cell-intrinsic genetic factors strongly contribute to the development of neural circuits, a large body of evidence shows that cell-extrinsic environmental stimuli can greatly influence neuronal maturation. An impoverished environment and reduced sensory-induced neuronal activity, particularly during early life, can lead to long-lasting changes in nervous system development/function, as evidenced by the classical study of ocular dominance by Hubel and Wiesel among many others.
We are investigating the role of environmental inputs, focusing on neuronal activity and different modes of neurotransmission, in neuronal maturation. We are also interested in investigating the role of tissue-tissue communication in neuronal maturation. Lastly, we are interested in understanding the role of organismal-extrinsic environmental influences on neuronal development and plasticity. We will first examine the influence of drugs of abuse as well as early life stress on neuronal development and plasticity. In C. elegans, we can do this systematically and comprehensively in a manner not possible yet in other organisms, with the ability to manipulate genes and neuronal activity in a temporally and spatially specific manner and the defined number of neuronal classes.