Experience

Wes1 UCSF1 Harvard1
 BA, Wesleyan University  PhD, University of California, San Francisco  Postdoc, Harvard University

LSRF

I am currently a Shurl and Kay Curci Foundation Fellow of the Life Science Research Foundation.

My scientific career up to this point has given me the opportunity to study in the field of neuroscience at a range of reductionist levels, from human behavior, through systems approaches, down to cellular physiology, each of which has contributed to the conception of my future work as a scientist.

My first research experience was as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University. There, I worked in a systems neuroscience lab, recording local field potentials and single units using extracellular electrodes implanted in the hippocampi of rats trained to perform complex appetitive behaviors. This work taught me to think about the function of cellular networks and how these networks could give rise to behavior. I saw potential in this approach, but was anxious to apply the principles that I had learned to the study of human behavior.

After graduation, my research undertook a dramatic shift when I took a job at Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center, conducting behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies on healthy and psychiatric human populations. I worked directly with patients experiencing neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and PTSD, as I developed paradigms to understand the neuronal correlates of the dysfunctions accompanying each of these diseases. I learned a great deal, but became convinced that dysfunctions in neuronal networks must begin as dysfunctions in the cells that make up those networks and thus only after achieving an understanding of the cellular physiology of individual neurons could we hope to truly understand network properties that give rise to human disease.

With that in mind, I entered graduate school with a plan to study neurons at a cellular level. My graduate work, in the laboratory of Roger Nicoll, was aimed at understanding the molecular underpinnings of synaptic formation, function, and integration. This work fell into two distinct divisions; one which focused on the role of the postsynaptic adhesion molecule neuroligin in the formation, maintenance, and plasticity of synapses; and another, which was aimed at understanding the mechanism by which individual pyramidal neurons control the relative strength of synapses distributed across their dendritic arbors to control for the passive filtering of electrical signals as they propagate along a dendrite.

I strongly believe that understanding the cellular function of neurons will allow us to one day understand overarching network properties of neurons and, eventually, human behavior. As I continue my scientific career, I plan to maintain a focus on the cellular and synaptic properties, but move again toward the field of human neuropsychiatric disease – using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells derived from patients with disease. My current research, therefore, is aimed at reaching a molecular understanding of how a pluripotent stem cell becomes a defined neuronal cell-type. Only after gaining that knowledge will it be possible to recombine all the aspects of my scientific training to study the cells and neural circuits of human patients to arrive at a molecular, mechanistic understanding of neuropsychiatric disease

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