Benjamin R. Arenkiel, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine and the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children's Hospital
Research focus: exploring how the interplay between genetics and neuronal activity form, refine, and maintain specialized circuits in the brain
Neurons do not act in isolation; they produce and exchange information in elaborate networks of cells defined by precise patterns of synaptic connectivity. These neural networks and microcircuits underlie all complex behaviors, including sensory perception, learning and memory. They also transcend classic neuroanatomic boundaries: the idea that different regions of the brain underpin different functions has been with us for centuries, but we are now beginning to define kindred neurons by their discrete patterns of gene expression and participation in specific circuits.
Although the blueprints for most neural circuits are specified by innate, genetic mechanisms, circuit architecture and function are strongly influenced by synaptic activity and neuro-modulatory input. A long-standing goal for both basic and clinical neuroscience, and the chief focus of the Arenkiel lab, is to understand how the interplay between genetics and neuronal activity form, refine, and maintain specialized neural circuits in the mammalian brain.
By exploiting the ongoing neurogenesis of the murine olfactory system, Dr. Arenkiel’s research group can investigate newborn neurons as they develop and maintain functional neural circuits in response to synaptic activity. The Arenkiel lab employs genetic engineering, optical imaging, and electrophysiological recording techniques to explore how synaptic activity influences circuit integration and to identify molecules that promote synapse formation in both the developing and the adult brain. They have begun to trace previously unknown patterns of input onto newborn granule cells as they integrate into olfactory circuits, including connections from resident olfactory bulb neurons, local and distant neuro-modulatory cells, and glia, and are characterizing these different neuronal subtypes to better understand their connectivity, neurotransmitter composition, molecular-genetic profiles, and responses to activity manipulations.
Sensory experience shapes the integration of adult-born neurons into the olfactory bulb.
Hanson E, Swanson J, Arenkiel BR