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Research Overview

In the brains of mammals, birds and invertebrates, the sensory world is organized into regular neuronal arrays or maps. Common examples are the map of body surface in somatosensory cortex (the so called “homunculus”) and the representation of oriented bars or edges in visual cortex. We are interested in understanding how genes (‘nature’) and the environment (‘nurture’) interact to guide the development of neuronal maps.

Our research focuses on development of the visual and somatosensory systems. We employ a broad range of experimental techniques, including neuroanatomy, molecular biology and biochemistry, in vitro and in vivo electrophysiology as well as optical imaging. This array of approaches allows us to examine neural circuit development from many perspectives, and provides synergistic impetus to our exploration of the cellular and molecular mechanisms for sensory map development.

Below you will find more detailed information about the research we do in our lab.


Contact Information

For general lab inquiries, contact Michael Crair or call:

Office Tel: 203-785-5768
Lab Tel: 203-785-6362
Lab Fax: 203-785-5263

Click here for directions to the lab.

In the brains of mammals, birds and invertebrates, the sensory world is organized into regular neuronal arrays or maps. Common examples are the map of body surface in somatosensory cortex (the so called “homunculus”) and the representation of oriented bars or edges in visual cortex. In these maps, neighboring cells respond to similar features of stimuli in the sensory periphery, and there is usually an orderly progression of the optimal stimulus across the array of neurons. We are interested in understanding how genes (‘nature’) interact with the environment (‘nurture’) to guide the development of these neuronal maps.

For example, it is well established in the vertebrate that molecular/genetic mechanisms guide sensory afferents to their appropriate target brain structure. Neuronal activity, shaped by sensory experience, is then thought to refine the arrangement of afferent synapses in order to ac! curately reflect the pattern of sensory input from the periphery. Research in my laboratory is currently focused on the development of the sensory pathways in rodents, particularly the visual and somatosensory system, because they allow for the relatively easy and rapid investigation of developmental mechanisms, but they are similar in many respects to analogous neuronal circuits in the human.

We specifically use the retinotopic map of the visual world in the superior colliculus of the mouse to investigate mechanisms of visual map development, and the ‘barrel’ map of facial whiskers in the somatosensory cortex of the rodent to investigate mechanisms responsible for the development of cortical maps. We employ a broad range of experimental techniques, including neuroanatomy, molecular biology and biochemistry, in vitro brain slice electrophysiology, single and multi-unit in vivo electrophysiology as well as optical imaging techniques in vivo. This array of approaches allows us to examine! neural circuit development from many different perspectives, and provides synergistic impetus to our exploration of the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for sensory map development.