Positions

Assistant Professor
Department of Neuroscience, Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, Graduate Programs in Developmental Biology, Graduate Program in Translational Biology and Molecular Medicine
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, Texas, United States
Caroline DeLuca Scholar
Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children's Hospital
Houston, Texas, United States

Education

Post-Doctoral Fellowship at University of California, San Diego
PhD from Baylor College of Medicine
BS from Fudan University

Honors & Awards

2018 McKnight Scholar Award
2016 NARSAD Young Investigator Award
2015 Janett Rosenberg Trubatch Career Development Award
2015 Whitehall Foundation Award
2014 Caroline DeLuca Scholar
2010 Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research Fellowship
2009 Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award in Neuroscience
2001 Chun-Tsung Scholar

Professional Interests

  • Cortical circuit function and development in health and disease

Professional Statement

The ability of the cerebral cortex to perform incredibly complex functions resides in its intricate neural circuits composed of a vast number of cortical neurons. The research goal of our laboratory is to understand how different classes of neurons in cortical circuits interact with each other to perform cortical functions and how dysfunction or abnormal development of neural circuits contributes to the pathogeneses of neurological disorders.

Cortical neurons excite or inhibit one another through the release of excitatory or inhibitory neurotransmitters, respectively, at the synapses. These two forms of communication, namely synaptic excitation and inhibition, work together to orchestrate the spatiotemporal patterns of neuronal activity. Hence, the relationship between excitation and inhibition, often referred to as the E/I ratio, is fundamental to many functional properties of cortical neurons, such as what stimuli a neuron is sensitive to, when a neuron is turned on or off, and how strongly a neuron is activated or suppressed. The E/I ratio is also thought to be crucial for neural network dynamics, stability, and signal propagation. Furthermore, failure to establish or maintain a proper E/I ratio leads to cortical circuit dysfunction and in fact this is being increasingly recognized as a key etiology of many neurological disorders including autism and epilepsy.

The crucial roles of the E/I ratio in both healthy and diseased brains have attracted much interest. However, despite the extensive characterization of the E/I ratios, the mechanisms underlying the appropriate E/I ratios are still poorly understood. More importantly, how abnormal E/I ratios affect cortical functions, thereby contributing to the behavioral deficits in neurological disorders, remains elusive. Thus, we study the spatiotemporal distribution of E/I ratio in distinct types of cortical neurons and identify the molecular mechanisms that establish the proper E/I ratios in different cell types. Furthermore, we use mouse models to investigate how genetic mutations involved in autism and pediatric epilepsy perturb cortical E/I ratios and circuit functions. A wide variety of approaches are employed in our laboratory including molecular manipulations (e.g. transgenic mouse, recombinant virus), functional manipulations (e.g. optogenetics, chemical-genetics), structural and functional analyses (e.g. in vitro and in vivo electrophysiology, two-photon imaging), gene expression profiling, and behavioral assays.

Our goal is to elucidate the synaptic mechanisms of elementary circuit functions with the hope to develop strategies to re-instate the proper balance between excitation and inhibition in neurological disorders for therapeutic interventions.

Selected Publications

Funding

R01 Research Grant
National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Mental Health
McKnight Scholar Award
McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience
NARSAD Young Investigator Award
Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
R01 Research Grant
National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
CURE Epilepsy Award
Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy
Whitehall Foundation Award
Whitehall Foundation