Prior to arriving at Janelia in the fall of 2009 I was:
- "a normal kid" growing up in Santa Cruz, CA
- an undergraduate student at Pomona College (BA 95-99’; Neuroscience)
- a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego (PhD 00-04’; Neuroscience)
- a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington (05-09’)
I am fascinated by the biophysical, synaptic, and network characteristics that govern communication between neurons. I’m equally fascinated by how the properties of neurons, and the ways in which they interact, determine the features of sensory stimuli to which we are, and are not, sensitive. We merge these interests by studying neural circuits in which (1) an improved understanding of cellular and circuit elements constrain models of sensory processing and/or (2) behavioral observations, or patterns of neural activity recorded in vivo, generate precise, testable hypotheses about the underlying neural mechanisms.
The olfactory and vestibular systems are examples of systems amenable to such an approach that I’ve studied in the past. At present we focus on neural circuits early in the visual system; in particular, we identify mechanisms that govern how information about light stimuli is processed and represented in the central nervous system. Several of us in the lab enjoy running road races; Sam is faster than Gabe by ~1 minute/mile (regardless of the distance). See pictures, and links to races we’ve run together, below.
We hope that several unusual features of the meeting, including ‘stars of neuroscience’ trading cards (see example below) and ‘speed dating’ will become standard components of meetings here and elsewhere; they certainly engendered enjoyable and informative discussion amongst scientists with different backgrounds, degrees of experience, and perspectives.
When I’m not in lab I can generally be found running, cooking, or following the most recent shenanigans of Liverpool FC.
Prior Publications (7)
Information about sensory stimuli is represented by spatiotemporal patterns of neural activity. The complexity of the central nervous system, however, frequently obscures the origin and properties of signals and noise that underlie these activity patterns. We minimized this constraint by examining mechanisms governing correlated activity in mouse retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) under conditions in which light-evoked responses traverse a specific circuit, the rod bipolar pathway. Signals and noise in this circuit produced correlated synaptic input to neighboring On and Off RGCs. Temporal modulation of light intensity did not alter the degree to which noise in the input to nearby RGCs was correlated, and action potential generation in individual RGCs was largely insensitive to differences in network noise generated by dynamic and static light stimuli. Together, these features enable noise in shared circuitry to diminish simultaneous action potential generation in neighboring On and Off RGCs under a variety of conditions.
Visual, auditory, somatosensory, and olfactory stimuli generate temporally precise patterns of action potentials (spikes). It is unclear, however, how the precision of spike generation relates to the pattern and variability of synaptic input elicited by physiological stimuli. We determined how synaptic conductances evoked by light stimuli that activate the rod bipolar pathway control spike generation in three identified types of mouse retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). The relative amplitude, timing, and impact of excitatory and inhibitory input differed dramatically between On and Off RGCs. Spikes evoked by repeated somatic injection of identical light-evoked synaptic conductances were more temporally precise than those evoked by light. However, the precision of spikes evoked by conductances that varied from trial to trial was similar to that of light-evoked spikes. Thus, the rod bipolar pathway modulates different RGCs via unique combinations of synaptic input, and RGC temporal variability reflects variability in the input this circuit provides.
Microcircuits composed of principal neuron and interneuron dendrites have an important role in shaping the representation of sensory information in the olfactory bulb. Here we establish the physiological features governing synaptic signaling in dendrodendritic microcircuits of olfactory bulb glomeruli. We show that dendritic gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) release from periglomerular neurons mediates inhibition of principal tufted cells, retrograde inhibition of sensory input and lateral signaling onto neighboring periglomerular cells. We find that L-type dendritic Ca(2+) spikes in periglomerular cells underlie dendrodendritic transmission by depolarizing periglomerular dendrites and activating P/Q type channels that trigger GABA release. Ca(2+) spikes in periglomerular cells are evoked by powerful excitatory inputs from a single principal cell, and glutamate release from the dendrites of single principal neurons activates a large ensemble of periglomerular cells.
Sensory neuron signaling to the brain: properties of transmitter release from olfactory nerve terminals.The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2004
G. J. Murphy, L. L. Glickfeld, Z. Balsen, and J. S. Isaacson The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 24:3023-30 (2004)
Olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) convey sensory information directly to the CNS via conventional glutamatergic synaptic contacts in olfactory bulb glomeruli. To better understand the process by which information contained in the odorant-evoked firing of ORNs is transmitted to the brain, we examined the properties of glutamate release from olfactory nerve (ON) terminals in slices of the rat olfactory bulb. We show that marked paired pulse depression is the same in simultaneously recorded periglomerular and tufted neurons, and that this form of short-term plasticity is attributable to a reduction of glutamate release from ON terminals. We used the progressive blockade of NMDA receptor (NMDAR) EPSCs by MK-801 [(5R,10S)-(+)-5-methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[a,d]cyclohepten-5-10-imine hydrogen maleate] and stationary fluctuation analysis of AMPA receptor (AMPAR) EPSCs to determine the probability of release (P(r)) of ON terminals; both approaches indicated that P(r) is unusually high (>/=0.8). The low-affinity glutamate receptor antagonists gamma-d-glutamylglycine and l-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid blocked ON-evoked AMPAR- and NMDAR-mediated EPSCs, respectively, to the same extent under conditions of low and high P(r), suggesting that multivesicular release is not a feature of ON terminals. Although release from most synapses exhibits a highly nonlinear dependence on extracellular Ca(2+), we find that the relationship between glutamate release and extracellular Ca(2+) at ON terminals is nearly linear. Our results suggest that ON terminals have specialized features that may contribute to the reliable transmission of sensory information from nose to brain.
Cyclic nucleotide-gated channels (CNGCs) on the dendritic cilia of olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) are critical for sensory transduction in the olfactory system. Do CNGCs also play a role in the axons and/or nerve terminals of ORNs? We find that the cyclic nucleotides cAMP and cGMP can both facilitate and depress synaptic transmission between olfactory nerve fibers and their targets in olfactory bulb glomeruli. Cyclic nucleotides increase intracellular Ca(2+) in ORN terminals and enhance spontaneous transmitter release; at higher concentrations, cyclic nucleotides depress evoked transmission by altering olfactory nerve excitability. Cyclic nucleotides have no effect on transmission or nerve excitability, however, in mice lacking olfactory CNGCs. Taken together, our results identify a novel role for presynaptic CNGCs in modulating neurotransmission.
NMDA receptors (NMDARs) typically contribute to excitatory synaptic transmission in the CNS. While Ca(2+) influx through NMDARs plays a critical role in synaptic plasticity, direct actions of NMDAR-mediated Ca(2+) influx on neuronal excitability have not been well established. Here we show that Ca(2+) influx through NMDARs is directly coupled to activation of BK-type Ca(2+)-activated K+ channels in outside-out membrane patches from rat olfactory bulb granule cells. Repetitive stimulation of glutamatergic synapses in olfactory bulb slices evokes a slow inhibitory postsynaptic current (IPSC) in granule cells that requires both NMDARs and BK channels. The slow IPSC is enhanced by glutamate uptake blockers, suggesting that extrasynaptic NMDARs underlie the response. These findings reveal a novel inhibitory action of extrasynaptic NMDARs in the brain.
Image stability during self motion depends on the combined actions of the vestibuloocular and optokinetic reflexes (VOR and OKR, respectively). Neurons in the medial vestibular nucleus (MVN) participate in the VOR and OKR by firing in response to both head and image motion. Their intrinsic spike-generating properties enable MVN neurons to modulate firing rates linearly over a broad range of input amplitudes and frequencies such as those that occur during natural head and image motion. This study examines the postnatal development of the intrinsic spike-generating properties of rat MVN neurons with respect to maturation of peripheral vestibular and visual function. Spike generation was studied in a brain stem slice preparation by recording firing responses to current injected intracellularly through whole cell patch electrodes. MVN neurons fired spontaneously and modulated their firing rate in response to injected current at all postnatal ages. However, the input-output properties of the spike generator changed dramatically during the first two postnatal weeks. Neurons younger than postnatal day 10 could not fire faster than 80 spikes/s, modulated their firing rates over a limited range of input amplitudes, and tended to exhibit a nonlinear relationship between input current and mean evoked firing rate. In response to sustained depolarization, firing rates declined significantly in young neurons. Response gains tended to be highest in the first few postnatal days but varied widely across neurons and were not correlated with age. By about the beginning of the third postnatal week, MVN neurons could fire faster than 100 spikes/s in response to a broad range of input amplitudes, exhibited predominantly linear current-firing rate relationships, and adapted little in response to sustained depolarization. Concomitant decreases in action potential width and the time course of the afterhyperpolarization suggest that changes in potassium currents contribute to the maturation of the MVN neuronal spike generator. The results demonstrate that developmental changes in intrinsic membrane properties enable MVN neurons to fire linearly in response to a broad range of stimuli in time for the onset of visual function at the beginning of the third postnatal week.