Fan Wang, Ph.D., PI
The research in my lab focuses on the neural circuit mechanisms underlying sensory perception and behaviors. We use a combination of genetic, viral, electrophysiology, and in vivo imaging (in free-moving animals) techniques to study these questions in mice (see Techniques page). Currently, there are four main research projects in the lab.
1. Touch and touch-guided behaviors.
Mice use their facial whiskers as touch sensors to explore the physical environment. Sensory information is first detected by trigeminal sensory neurons innervating the tactile whiskers, and subsequently processed by brainstem, thalamic, and cortical circuits to generate tactile percepts (such as the length of a gap, the texture of an object). The movement of the whiskers are driven by facial motor neurons, which themselves receive sophisticated inputs (directly and indirectly) from diverse sources of cortical, cerebellar, midbrain and hindbrain neurons. We are mapping the detailed neural connectivity in this sensorimotor system using combinations of genetic and viral tools, and performing functional studies of defined populations of neurons in this system including in vivo electrophysiological recording and calcium imaging, as well as optogenetic manipulations. The goal is to determine the roles of specific populations of neurons in touch perception and touch-guided behaviors.
2. Social communication and social interaction behaviors.
Mice use ultrasonic vocalizations (USV) to communicate with each other. They also exhibit many other stereotyped social interactive behaviors. We are interested in identifying the neural circuits that control USV and social behaviors by labeling and manipulating neurons that are activated during USV or social interactions. Further, it is known that one of the cardinal symptoms of autism is social deficit. Thus, we are also keen on examining how the identified social circuits are altered in mouse models of autism. We collaborate with Drs. Richard Mooney and Yong-Hui Jiang for this line of research.
3. The affective and emotional pathway of pain.
The perception of pain contains two main aspects: the discriminative aspect (i.e. what kind of pain) and the affective aspect (i.e the suffering and negative emotions evoked by pain). The affective/emotional pain pathway involves painful stimuli activation of the parabrachial nucleus in the brainstem, which have reciprocal connections with structures of the limbic system including the amygadala, BNST, hypothalamus, etc. We are mapping the detailed connectivity and manipulating functions of neurons in this emotional pain system using viral transsynaptic tracing, optogenetic and chemogenetic approaches. One of the main goals of these studies is to understand how changes in this system contribute to the suffering of chronic pain. We collaborate with Drs. Ru-Rong Ji and Wolfgang Liedtke for pain-related research.
4. The circuits that switch the brain into unconscious state
Perceptions and voluntary behaviors depend on a conscious brain. It is known that general anesthesia induces the loss-of-conscious brain state. We are interested in identifying the critical circuit nodes that mediate the effects of general anesthesia. We collaborate with Dr. Kafui Dzirasa for this line of research.