Cognitive development, memory, behavior and sensation are just some of the functions performed by the brain. They are all highly plastic in nature and this necessitates that the circuits of the brain that underpin them are capable of change.
In immaturity, cell proliferation and migration give rise to neural circuits and thus the first appearance of brain function. However, as evident by the difference in the capabilities of the immature and mature brain, the neural circuits of immaturity and maturity must differ greatly. This can only mean that the immature circuits undergo a significant reorganization as they mature.
For example, babies are only able to curl all of their fingers simultaneously whereas as adults can move their fingers independently and over a much broader range. We can correlate this to the reorganization of imprecise cortex to spinal cord wiring in immaturity to fine-scaled cortex to spinal cord wiring in maturity.
Interestingly, this scale of circuit plasticity can only be observed in the adult brain in cases of recovery from brain injury. For example, stroke patients can gradually regain function in their affected limbs both in terms of sensation and movement.
In our laboratory, we study the “reorganization of neural circuits” during both development and recovery in terms of:
What is the mechanism of circuit change?
What aspects in a circuit change?
What determines the timing of change?
We employ a number of cutting-edge techniques such as in vivo 2-photon microscopy and patch clamp electrophysiology address these questions. We are particularly interested in the role that glial cells (astrocytes, microglia and oligodendrocytes) play in facilitating circuit reorganization and the importance of GABA-related homeostatic mechanisms such as the regulation of intracellular Cl-.