Ethan Gahtan, Ph.D.
Sensorimotor transformations in zebrafish reticulospinal neurons. Sensorimotor transformations are the neural processes that underlie the ability to use sensory information to guide motor behavior. This ability raises an interesting neuroscientific question: how is the neural representation of sensory information, such as an object's location, transformed into the neural representation of a movement? Reticulospinal (RS) neurons are sensorimotor neurons in the vertebrate hindbrain. They receive sensory input and relay motor control signals to the spinal cord through long descending axons. My lab studies the sensorimotor function of RS neurons in zebrafish larvae because, in these animals, RS neurons are individually identifiable and the structure and behavioral function of their synaptic connections can be precisely characterized. A combination of methods are used, including neuroanatomical observations, immunolabeling of synaptic markers, physiological recording and laser ablation of identified neurons, and behavior analysis, to answer basic questions about RS sensorimotor function. These studies would not be possible in more complex vertebrates and, therefore, have the potential to reveal new principles of sensorimotor processing in the vertebrate hindbrain brain.