Alison Barth, PhD Associate Professor, Biological Sciences
Research in the lab centers around one overriding question: how does experience selectively activate and change neuronal properties? Although we are beginning to understand the neural basis for discrete behaviors in invertebrates, this question is exponentially more complex and challenging in vertebrates. In the mammalian cortex, complex behaviors and learning are mediated through the activity of hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of the trillions of neurons. Finding the right brain area, and indeed, the right neurons, is a critical step in enabling to identify the cellular and molecular basis for behavioral plasticity. We are addressing this question using a novel strain of transgenic mice that express GFP under the control of the c-fos promoter (fosGFP transgenic mice), coupling fluorescent gene expression to neural activity. This technique has allowed us to focus on changes occurring in the neurons that have initiated gene expression in response to in vivo experience. Once we know where in the brain to look, it becomes possible to ask highly sophisticated questions that bring together systems-level neuroscience, cellular electrophysiology, and molecular biology.