Our lab wants to understand how neurons wire together to form the intricate yet adaptable neural circuits that support complex brain functions. We are particularly interested in how newborn neurons form synaptic connections, and how this determines whether a neuron will survive. To answer these questions, we use in vivo 2-photon microscopy to track the structure and function of individual neurons and synapses over time in the living brain, as well as molecular genetic tools, electrophysiology, optogenetics and behavior.
Our main model system is the mouse olfactory bulb, where uniquely in the mammalian brain, multiple populations of newborn neurons are continually incorporated into highly organized circuits throughout life. Olfactory sensory neurons, which provide sensory input to the olfactory bulb, are generated from stem cells in the olfactory epithelium of the nose, while neuroblasts produced in the subventricular zone migrate to the olfactory bulb and differentiate into several different types of inhibitory interneurons. This endows the olfactory bulb with an extraordinary capacity for lifelong experience-dependent plasticity and even enables substantial regeneration following damage. By understanding how newborn neurons promote plasticity and repair in the olfactory bulb, we hope to gain insight into how functional integration of stem cell-derived neurons can be promoted to regenerate damaged or degenerating neural circuits in other brain regions.
Savya SP, Kunkhyen T, Cheetham CE. Low survival rate of young adult-born olfactory sensory neurons in the undamaged mouse olfactory epithelium. J. Bioenerg. Biomembr. (in press) https://doi.org/10.1007/s10863-018-9774-8
Cheetham CE, Grier BD, Belluscio L. Bulk regional viral injection in neonatal mice enables structural and functional interrogation of defined neuronal populations throughout targeted brain areas. Front Neural Circuits. 2015 Nov 5;9:72.