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Zhou Lab

Intro block Laboratory of Motor Control

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Introduction to the laboratory

Our ultimate goal is to understand how the brain controls numerous behaviors. With this goal in mind, we choose to focus on the circuit mechanisms controlling motor functions, which are easy to be quantified and interpreted. Specifically, we are interested in the cerebellar and brainstem neural circuits controlling fine motor movements. Using techniques including circuit tracing, circuit manipulations, in vivo recordings and novel quantitative behavior paradigms, we aim to characterize circuit mechanisms underlying normal motor functions and essential tremor, the most common movement disorder.

 

We have positions available for postdocs, graduate students, undergraduate students, technicians and interns. We also welcome applicants from computer science, engineering, math and physics backgrounds. If you are fascinated by the mystery of neuroscience, you will find our lab an inspiring environment. Please email the PI and explain why you are interested. We will arrange interviews ASAP for promising candidates.

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Research

1. Neural mechanisms of Essential Tremor

Holding a glass of milk, brushing teeth and tying shoe laces might all sound so simple tasks that one rarely even think about them. But for patients with essential tremor, all these life routines can become very challenging. Essential tremor is reported to be the most common movement disorder. It is estimated to affect 1% of the general population and its prevalence increases with age.

We aim to use mouse models to elucidate the neural circuit mechanisms of essential tremor. Our philosophy is that although essential tremor is a heterogeneous disease which can originate from different risk gene mutations and environment factors, its core symptoms are more or less the same, i.e. the action tremor. By dissecting the synaptic and circuit mechanisms that generate action tremor, we can potentially identify the final common pathway of essential tremor disease and provide therapeutic ideas.

 

2. Cerebellar neural circuits controlling fine movements

The cerebellum is a conserved brain structure required for movement precision. Its basic structure, cell types, input and output have been better characterized compared with most of other brain areas. We aim to take advantage of the structural simplicity of the cerebellum and investigate its roles in fine motor control. Our previous results show that the projections from the cerebellar nuclei to the brainstem motor nuclei could be responsible for online movement corrections. Future studies in the lab will investigate roles of cerebellar circuits in fine motor control by using in vivo electrophysiological recordings, circuit tracing/manipulation techniques, and developing novel behavior paradigms that require online movement corrections.

 

3. Brainstem neural circuits in motor control

Movement is eventually achieved by contractions of muscles innervated by motor neurons in the spinal cord. Each type of movement is controlled by synergetic actions of a group of muscles, making it difficult to interpret the connections between neural codes and movements. In the brainstem, including the medulla, pon and midbrain, there are numerous motor brain regions, which send motor command signals to motor neurons. Currently our understanding of the structure and function of motor neural circuits in the brainstem is still very limited. We think the brainstem neural circuits play a vital role in motor control. They may receive motor decision and planning signals from upstream regions and deliver concrete movement control signals to distributed sets of motor neurons in the spinal cord. We are using cutting edge circuit study tools to investigate roles of different brainstem motor nuclei and cell types in motor control.

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