Alex Kwan PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Neural circuits; Inhibitory neurons; Executive functions; Two-photon microscopy; Optogenetics; Mouse behavior; Electrophysiology
The goal of my laboratory is to understand the neural circuit basis of higher cognitive functions, which are essential for goal-directed behavior and commonly impaired in psychiatric disorders. Using the mouse as a model enables us to apply a diverse set of tools, including in vivo two-photon imaging, optogenetics, and patch-clamp electrophysiology, to relate neural activity to behavior. We are particularly interested in the prefrontal and cingulate cortices for which there have been relatively few direct neural recording experiments. We recognize the challenges in species differences and behavioral paradigms, so a large part of our effort focuses on developing quantifiable behaviors and studying neural mechanisms that may be generalized.
Extensive Research Description
My laboratory is engaged in two major problems. One, can we break down cognitive functions into component processes and determine how they are implemented in the brain? We have trained head-fixed mice on a variety of perceptual decision-making and cognitive tasks, during which the neuronal ensemble activity can be optically imaged and controlled. We are exploiting this paradigm to study the functions of cell types, neural pathways, and neuromodulation in behaving mice. Two, how do mental illnesses and psychiatry drugs impact neural activity? We want to bring our expertise in cellular resolution optical imaging to study the actions of antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs on cortical microcircuits. We are working with other basic and clinical research groups on this topic.