Neuromodulators are powerful, specialized neurotransmitters that can functionally reconfigure neural circuits. By fine‐tuning the properties of specific cells and synapses, neuromodulators mediate learning and changes in behavioral state. Compromised neuromodulation underlies many neurological disorders ranging from pain and drug addiction to Parkinson’s disease.
We are particularly interested in neuropeptides, which are specifically expressed in distinct cell types that also release GABA or glutamate. Despite their abundance and striking, evolutionarily conserved expression patterns, the physiological roles of most neuropeptides in the brain are largely unknown.
To reveal when, where and how neuropeptides modulate neural circuits, we employ contemporary genetically-targeted neuroanatomical methods, whole-cell electrophysiology, two-photon imaging and rodent behavioral analysis, often in conjunction with optogenetic and chemical-genetic perturbations. To facilitate these efforts, we also develop novel molecular tools for observing and manipulating neuromodulatory activity with an emphasis on photoactivatable (caged) neurotransmitters, optical sensors and genetically-targeted pharmacological probes.