In the brain, information processing occurs at synapses, and defects in synapse formation underlie many neurological and psychiatric diseases; thus, precise organization of synapses is critical for proper functioning of the brain. We are therefore interested in the molecules and mechanisms by which specific and functional synaptic connections are established in the brain, and are applying our findings to the prevention and treatment of neurological/psychiatric disorders. We use molecular & cellular biological, mouse genetics, biochemical, histological, physiological, behavioral, optogenetic, and imaging techniques.
Through our work, we aim to understand the principle of mammalian brain wiring and how the functional brain is built. Specifically, we identify molecules and mechanisms crucial for synapse formation, focusing on two critical steps during synapse development: 1) differentiation of specific synapses (such as excitatory vs. inhibitory vs. modulatory synapses) and 2) activity-dependent refinement of functional synapses (i.e., stabilization of active synapses and elimination of inactive synapses). We establish in vitro and in vivo systems to investigate these steps, analyze the underlying mechanisms, and identify critical determinants for the establishment of appropriate synaptic circuits in the mammalian brain. Our projects will molecularly delineate how specific and functional synaptic connections are established in vivo to understand the process of fundamental wiring of the brain. The knowledge obtained will be applied to the prevention or treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders associated with abnormal synapse formation, such as autism, schizophrenia, and epilepsy.