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Neural Circuit Engineering (NCE) Laboratory
Research Overview

A key question in both clinical and basic neuroscience research is how to create synaptic connections to restore function to a damaged or malfunctioning neural circuit. To date, pharmacological treatments and neural implants show promise in generating new synaptic connections; however, neither offers control over where synapses are established. Because a circuit’s function relies on precision within its connectivity, a need exists to generate targeted synaptic connections as a standalone or supplemental strategy for neural circuit repair.

Our laboratory focuses on three major topics that all share the long-term goal of informing and generating strategies for neural-circuit repair:

  1. Determining how neural circuit function emerges from precise synaptic connectivity.

  2. Determining the molecular mechanisms that establish connectivity within circuits.

  3. Designing genetic based tools to rewire or reestablish neural connections in disconnected or miswired neural circuits.

We conduct this work in the model organism, Drosophila melanogaster. During development, synapse formation in the central nervous system of this tiny fruit fly utilizes mechanisms conserved in mammalian systems. Due to this, D. melanogaster has provided tremendous insight on how connections are established and why connections become aberrant in neurodegenerative diseases and neurological disorders. Most recently, the development of a genetic based neural-engineering tool kit has enabled an unprecedented ability to probe and modify neural circuits within the fruit fly brain.