Research Direction

  • Our research is focused on ellucidating neuronal circuitry mechanisms underlying brain learning and postnatel critical period pleasticity, as well as synaptic pathologies associated with neural developmental diseases.

Latest and Featured Publications


Distinct inhibitory circuits drive cortical oscillations

Distinct subtypes of inhibitory interneuron are known to shape diverse rhythmic activities in the cortex, but how they interact to orchestrate specific band activity remains largely unknown. In this study, we conducted in vivo recording and manipulating interneuronal spiking activity in the visual cortex of behaving mice and have revealed an explicit neuronal circuitry mechanism by which somatostatin (SOM)- and parvalbumin (PV)-expressing inhibitory interneurons exert differential and cooperative roles in driving cortical beta and gamma oscillations. Our paper was featured in the December issue of Neuron. See Chen et al., (2017) Neuron, 96(6):1403-1418. [PDF+Suppl]


A distinct EC to hippocampal CA1 direct circuit for associative learning

Entorhinal cortex (EC) transfers multimodal information to hippocampus CA1 neurons via indirect and direct pathways. By using ChR2-assisted circuit mapping method, in vivo optogenetics and electrophysiology, we show that excitatory projections from lateral entorhinal cortex selectively target a subpopulation of morphologically complex, calbindin-expressing pyramidal cells (cPCs) in CA1, forming a distinct direct circuit that is required for olfactory associative learning. The cPCs develop more selective spiking responses to odor cues during learning. See Li et al., (2017) Nat. Neurosci. [PDF] This work was selected as a cover story [Cover].


Critical periods begin after intracortical excitatory synapses mature.

By systematically examining various intracortical synapses within layer 4 of the mouse visual cortex, demonstrate that in the developing visual cortical circuit, temporal dynamics of intracortical excitatory synapses are selectively regulated by visual experience prior to the critical period onset, while that of intracortical inhibitory synapses and long-range thalamocortical excitatory synapses remained unchanged. This provides an additional essential exciatory circuit mechanism for regulating critical period plasticity. See Miao et al., (2016) Cell Reports, [PDF]


Direct conversion of astrocytes into neurons by Ascl-1 in vivo

Our study, collaborated with Dr. Le-ping Cheng's group at ION, CAS, show that the expression of single transcriptor factor Ascl1 alone is sufficient to convert astrocytes directly into functional neurons in the intact mouse brain. The transdifferentiated neurons functionally mature progressively and form functional synapses with existing neighboring neurons of circuits in the dorsal midbrain, striatum, and neocortex in the postnatal and adult mouse brain. Thus, our work offers potential therapeutic approaches for neural regeneration. See Liu et al. (2015) J. Neurosci., 35(25):9336 ā€“9355. [PDF]


ASD gene Mecp2 in cortical PV cells regulates V1 critical period plasticity.

Critical period plasticity describes a developmental process whereby neural circuits are fine-tuned for specific functions. Here, we show that the Rett syndrome protein MeCP2 in GABAergic parvalbumin- expressing neurons is required for maintaining proper inhibitory circuitry functions that underlie the induction of experience-dependent critical period plasticity of the developing visual cortex. The specific locus of cortical synaptic defects caused by MeCP2 loss in inhibitory PV cells was revealed as well. See He et al., (2014) Nat. Commun., 5:5036. [PDF]


Coincident binocular inputs mediate the critical period plasticity in V1.

What correlated inputs from the two eyes are responsible for mediating the critical period plasticity in developing V1 remains unclear. Using in vivo whole-cell recording from the mouse V1, we demonstrate that the coincidence of binocular synaptic inputs from the two eyes is a hallmark of the critical period and serves as neural substrates for the induction of experience-dependent ocular dominance plasticity of the developing V1, through a homeostatic synaptic learning mechanism. See Chen et al., (2014) J. Neurosci., 34(8):2940-2955. [PDF]


GABA(B)R activation mediates LTP of developing GABAergic synapses.

Activity-induced synaptic modification provides a cellular basis for developmental refinement of neuronal connections and for the information storage that is associated with learning and memory. Here, we show that at developing hippocamal GABAergic synapses, a bi-directional modification of GABAergic synapses that is induced by repetitive coincident pre- and postsynaptic spiking at different frequenciesand postsynaptic GABA(B)R activation mediates the LTP. See Xu et al., (2008) Nat. Neurosci., 11, 1410 - 1418. [PDF]


Simple arithemetic rule for dendritiec integration.

The integretion of synaptic inputs at the dendrite determines the neuronal spike ouput. Based on realistic modeling and experiments in rat hippocampal slices, we derived a simple arithmetic rule for spatial summation of concurrent excitatory glutamatergic inputs (E) and inhibitory GABAergic inputs (I). Our rule offers a simple analytical tool for studying Eā€“I integration in pyramidal neurons that incorporates the location specificity of GABAergic shunting inhibition. See Hao et al., (2009) PNAS, 106(51) 21906ā€“21911. [PDF]