Deciphering the brain’s assembly instructions
Our perceptions and behaviours are the results of a complex yet precise assembly of neural circuits within our brains. One of the central puzzles in neuroscience is how a brain containing hundreds of billions of neurons, and tens of thousands of times more synaptic connections, wires up with precision.
Dr. Brian Chen, Canada Research Chair in Neural Circuit Formation, is examining how neurons make synaptic partnering decisions to form functioning neural circuits. The instructions on how to build a brain are essentially written in the genome. Chen’s research involves deciphering the rules governing neural circuit formation, and uncovering molecules used to guide neurons into the circuits that underlie a behaviour.
To uncover the different molecules and strategies used to assemble neural circuits, Chen combines high-resolution imaging techniques with advanced molecular genetics. Using these tools, he can look inside living animals while their neurons are making connections to determine why and how they make particular connection decisions. To identify the underlying genetic mechanisms, Chen uses invertebrate model systems, and applies his discoveries to human health using vertebrate model systems.
Chen’s research will provide insights into how the brain is built from the genetic code, and how these instructions can go awry in mental retardation and disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.