Animals interact with the world through movement, made possible through widely distributed neuronal activity translated into precisely ordered patterns of muscle activity. Our lab seeks to understand how the neuronal circuits that connect the brain and the spinal cord enable this remarkable transformation. We are particularly interested in understanding how motor cortex neurons connect with a diverse array of cell types in the spinal cord and ultimately shape muscle activity. Another goal of our research is to characterize the circuits that transmit sensory information from the spinal cord to the brain, and how those circuits help the motor system adapt to changes in the environment.
We use anatomical tracing, RNA sequencing, and synaptic electrophysiology tools to map neuronal circuits in the brain and spinal cord with cell type-specific precision. Once we understand the organization of these circuits, we combine neuronal recording methods including multiphoton calcium imaging with skilled behavioral assays to determine how circuit activity is involved in movement planning and execution. Finally, we use tools such as optogenetics to activate and inactivate brain and spinal circuits to better understand what neuronal activity is necessary for skilled behavior.