|Associate Professor, Department of Neurobiology|
Department of Cell Biology
|308 Nanaline Duke Bldg., Box 3709|
Duke University Medical Center
Durham, NC 27710
The two movies in the “Movie Gallery” are two examples of how mice use the back-and-forth sweeping movements of their whiskers (specialized facial hairs) for environmental and social explorations in the dark (movies were taken under infrared light), such as gap-crossing and social whisking shown here.
Sensory stimuli experienced by the face (including those encountered by whiskers) are detected and transmitted to the brain by trigeminal sensory neurons (see Image Gallery-sensory endings in whiskers). From trigeminal neurons, sensory information is relayed (mapped) to the brainstem, the thalamus, and ultimately to the somatosensory cortex (see Image Gallery-barrelettes in brainstem).
Whiskers are motile sensors and thus the process is often referred to as “active sensing”. Movements of the whiskers are controlled by motoneurons located in the facial nucleus and a complex network of cortical and subcortical neurons that directly or indirectly connected to these motoneurons (see Image Gallery- whisking motoneurons and premotor neurons).
Whisker derived information is processed and used to guide many other behaviors as rodents move through their environments to search for food and to interact with each other. Other facial sensory organ derived information guides many different orofacial behaviors such as mastication (chewing), licking and swallowing (see Image Gallery- Vmes-MoV mastication).
In our lab, we aim to dynamically map and functionally manipulate the neural circuits underlying the processes of "sensations to perceptions to actions". We have been and are continuing to develop genetically engineered mice, together with various viral technologies (such as deficient rabies virus, retrograde lentiviruses, and AAV), to perform “connectivity mapping” of sensorimotor circuits, and to carry out optogenetic/chemicogenetic dissections of circuit functions (see Image and Movie Gallery fro examples of connectivity studies).