Interrogating Experience-Induced Gene Regulatory Network Dynamics in Interneurons

2018 Scientific Innovations Award
Xinyu Zhao, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Understanding the complex relationships between gene expression, neuronal plasticity, and behavior is a fundamental goal of neuroscience. However the brain contains many types of neurons. Therefore, a systematic understanding of brain function must include an effective strategy for targeting specific populations of neurons. In addition, cellular function requires coordinated action of large numbers of interacting genes. Therefore, a systematic approach must examine the gene regulatory networks that drive these expression changes. This application represents Dr. Zhao’s first steps to tackle these challenges by both utilizing state-of-art genomic tools and innovative computational methods to identify cell type-specific gene regulatory networks that mediate experience-induced behavioral changes. Dr. Zhao’s lab will focus on a type of neuron called interneurons. Although interneurons constitute only less than 20% of total neurons in the brain, they are critical in controlling the activities of many other neurons. It has been shown that these interneurons have critical roles in sensory processing, attention, working memory, and cognition, and they are altered in several psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and autism. In this project, they will determine whether experience mobilizes networks of genes in specific subtypes of interneurons in the adult brains.

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