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Molecular and Human Genetics

Houston, Texas

Department of Molecular and Human Genetics
Department of Molecular and Human Genetics
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Benjamin R. Arenkiel, Ph.D.

Benjamin R. Arenkiel, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Molecular and Human Genetics
McNair Scholar

Other Positions

Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience; Program in Developmental Biology
Assistant Professor, Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute, Texas Children's Hospital


B.S., St. Cloud State University, 1998
Ph.D., University of Utah School of Medicine, 2004
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Postdoctoral Fellow, Duke University, 2009

Research Interests

The main focus of our research is to elucidate the basic mechanisms that guide the formation and maintenance of neural circuits in the mammalian brain. Using the mouse, we apply multifaceted experimental approaches that combine genetic engineering, optical imaging, and electrophysiological recording techniques to better understand synapse and circuit function.

The nervous system is built upon an elaborate collection of cells that form precise patterns of synaptic connectivity underlying complex behaviors. How are functional brain circuits established and how are they properly maintained over an animal’s life? The blueprints for most neural circuits are specified by innate, genetic mechanisms. However, circuit architecture and function can be strongly influenced by neural activity. Exploiting the phenomenon of continued neurogenesis in the mouse olfactory system, and recently developed methods to generate neurons in vitro, we are investigating the developmental mechanisms that guide adult-born, and stem cell-derived neurons to form and maintain functional synaptic connections. Three objectives we are pursuing include: (1) identification of cell types that form synaptic connections with newborn neurons, (2) classifying the different forms of synaptic activity that influence circuit integration, and (3) discovery of key molecules that promote synapse formation and maintenance in the developing and adult brain.

newborn granule cells expressing EGFP

Coronal slice through a mouse olfactory bulb showing newborn granule cells labeled with a trans-synaptic rabies virus vector expressing EGFP.

Towards these goals we have engineered novel mouse models and viral vectors that allow us to mark and manipulate circuit activities in genetically defined neurons within intact brain tissues. Using opto-genetic, chemical-genetic, and trans-synaptic viral labeling methods, we have begun to unveil previously unknown patterns of input onto newborn neurons as they integrate into existing brain circuits, including connections from local and distant neuro-modulatory cells, and glia. We are currently characterizing these different neuronal subtypes in detail to better understand their timing and nature of connectivity, neurotransmitter composition, molecular-genetic profiles, and network influence following activity manipulations.

The long-term goal of our research is to form a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that guide synapse and circuit formation, with the ultimate hope of gaining insight towards repairing or replacing damaged or diseased nervous tissue.

Selected Publications

  1. Huang L, Garcia I, Jen HI, Arenkiel BR (2013). Reciprocal connectivity between mitral cells and external plexiform layer interneurons in the mouse olfactory bulb. Front Neural Circuits 7: 32. PubMed PMID: 23459611
  2. Chen Q, Cichon J, Wang W, Qiu L, Lee SJ, Campbell NR, Destefino N, Goard MJ, Fu Z, Yasuda R, Looger LL, Arenkiel BR, Gan WB, Feng G (2012). Imaging neural activity using Thy1-GCaMP transgenic mice. Neuron 76(2): 297-308. PubMed PMID: 23083733
  3. Garcia I, Huang L, Ung K, Arenkiel BR (2012). Tracing Synaptic Connectivity onto Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Neurons. Stem Cells 30(10): 2140-51. PubMed PMID: 22996827
  4. Wulff P, Arenkiel BR (2012). Chemical genetics: receptor-ligand pairs for rapid manipulation of neuronal activity. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 22(1): 54-60. PubMed PMID: 22119143
  5. Arenkiel BR, Hasegawa H, Yi JJ, Larsen RS, Wallace ML, Philpot BD, Wang F, Ehlers MD (2011). Activity-induced remodeling of olfactory bulb microcircuits revealed by monosynaptic tracing. PLoS One 6(12): e29423. PubMed PMID: 22216277
  6. Arenkiel BR (2011). Genetic approaches to reveal the connectivity of adult-born neurons. Front Neurosci. 5: 48. PubMed PMID: 21519388
  7. Arenkiel BR, Ehlers MD (2009). Molecular genetics and imaging technologies for circuit-based neuroanatomy. Nature 461(7266): 900-7. PubMed PMID: 19829369
  8. Arenkiel BR, Klein ME, Davison IG, Katz LC, Ehlers MD (2008). Genetic control of neuronal activity in mice conditionally expressing TRPV1. Nat. Methods 5(4): 299-302. PubMed PMID: 18327266
  9. Arenkiel BR, Peca J, Davison IG, Feliciano C, Deisseroth K, Augustine GJ, Ehlers MD, Feng G (2007). In vivo light-induced activation of neural circuitry in transgenic mice expressing channelrhodopsin-2. Neuron 54(2): 205-18. PubMed PMID: 17442243
  10. Arenkiel BR, Tvrdik P, Gaufo GO, Capecchi MR (2004). Hoxb1 functions in both motoneurons and in tissues of the periphery to establish and maintain the proper neuronal circuitry. Genes Dev. 18(13): 1539-52. PubMed PMID: 15198977

Contact Information

Benjamin R. Arenkiel, Ph.D.
Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute
1250 Moursund St. Suite 1165.02
Mail Stop: NR-1125
Houston, TX, 77030, U.S.A.

Phone: 713-798-1960

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