We constantly use our ‘sensors’ – e.g. eyes, hands – to explore the world around us. Sensory inputs are transduced into electrical signals and represented as the neuronal activity in the sensory cortex. Neuronal representation of a sensory stimulus in the cortex is not static, but can be modified depending on its behavioral relevance. In addition to changes in representation of sensory stimuli, learning induces the emergence of non-sensory, task-related signals in the sensory cortex. In rodents trained to perform reward-based sensory-guided tasks, diverse task-related signals reflecting factors such as perception, reward timing and expectation increasingly appear in sensory cortical areas. This learning-induced plasticity is critical for processing and storing valuable sensory information. We seek to understand how the sensory experience alters the stimulus representation, and to identify mechanisms underlying the emergence of task-related signals in relevant cortical areas.

We study these questions in the mouse tactile system. Mice move their whiskers to explore around them, similar to how primates use their hands. The mouse tactile system is an excellent model for studying cortical dynamics and plasticity, because of its accessibility and the well-defined mapping between the sensory input and responsive brain areas.

Specific areas of current research are:

  • Mapping cortical projections that drive and/or modulate sensory-guided learning in mice.
  • Identifying pre- and post-synaptic substrates for sensory-guided learning.
  • Determining the dynamics and heterogeneity of intracellular signaling cascades critical for associative learning at single cell level in vivo.
  • Elucidating mechanisms underlying the abnormal plasticity observed in mouse models of autism spectrum disorders.

We use cutting-edge methods to measure and manipulate neuronal activity in behaving mice, and perform detailed circuit mapping in brain slice preparation. We combine these approaches with molecular and genetic tools to identify substrates for sensory processing and perceptual learning at circuit, synaptic and molecular levels.