Nenad Sestan MD, PhD
Professor of Neurobiology
Evolution and development of neuronal circuits of the human cerebral cortex
Research in our laboratory investigates how neurons acquire distinct identities and form precise connections in the developing cerebral cortex, a part of the brain involved in a variety of higher cognitive, emotional, sensory, and motor functions. We also study how these developmental processes have changed during evolution and in human disorders. We study these problems for primarily two reasons. The first reason is to explore what it is about our brain that makes us human. The most important distinction between humans and other species is largely thought to reside in the unique features of human brain development, especially the way in which intricate neuronal circuits of the cerebral cortex are wired. The second reason for this research is to understand why humans suffer from certain brain diseases. The emergence of intricate neuronal circuits has given us remarkable cognitive abilities, but may have also increased our susceptibility to disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
An important element of our research is the integration of complementary approaches at the interface of developmental neurobiology, molecular biology, comparative genomics, and genetics. To achieve this, we combine
- Analyses of evolutionarily conserved developmental mechanisms using the genetically tractable mouse model
- Comparative analyses to identify human-specific features of brain development
- Genetic and molecular analyses of disorders of human cognitive development