Research Goals:

Our lab is interested in the functional organization of the hindbrain. More specifically, we study the Reticulospinal System, a poorly understood network of hindbrain neurons that controls a variety of locomotor behaviors. In mammals, this system is extremely complex and relatively inaccessible. However, using transparent larval zebrafish, we are able to study this system with sophisticated optical techniques.

Hindbrain Image This is an image of the neurons in a zebrafish hindbain. Click on it for a full size version. (50kb)

We hope to understand, at the cellular level, the descending motor control of such behaviors as swimming, escaping, feeding and navigation. The optical accessibility of the larvae's hindbrain allows investigation of cellular-level activity in intact, awake zebrafish.This facilitates not only subcellular-to-population level recording of neural activity, but also permits laser ablation of individually identified neurons. Identified neurons can be photoablated either singly or in precise combinations.

Mauthner Cell Image This is an image of a Mauthner cell, a cell known to be involved in the zebrafish's escape response. The Mauthner cell can be easily photoablated. Click on it for a full size version. (14kb)

The behavioral deficits resulting from cell ablations can then be analyzed using a high speed camera. Our goal is to discover organizational principles of the CNS that apply to all vertebrate animals. Because the hindbrain is well conserved across vertebrate species, our characterization of novel neural architectures in the zebrafish should have a direct impact on our understanding of younger branches of the vertebrate tree such as primates, including humans.

This is a movie of a zebrafish's escape response elicited by aiming a brief jet of water at the head. The frames in this movie were captured at 2 msec intervals. (176kb)


Look at more images of zebrafish neuroanatomy and behavior.