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Assembly, disassembly and reassembly of circuits in the retina

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Rachel Wong, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Biological Structure
University of Washington

Since becoming an independent investigator in 1994, Dr. Wong has focused her research on understanding the cellular mechanisms underlying the assembly, disassembly, and reassembly of neuronal circuits in the central nervous system. To this end, her laboratory has used and generated novel cell-labeling and optical-imaging techniques to visualize neurons and their connections in situ and in vivo. The laboratory has developed live-cell imaging approaches (confocal and multiphoton) to track structural changes in neurons throughout their development, during neuronal degeneration, and upon regeneration of circuits in disease models. Dr. Wong’s lab has also created new molecular and genetic tools to label cells and their synapses in live tissue, and has generated novel imaging methods to monitor the activity of neurons and their networks. Overall, her laboratory applies a multidisciplinary approach, combining electrophysiology (patch-clamp and multielectrode recordings) with light and electron microscopy (EM) to correlate the structure and function of retinal circuits in two model systems, mice and zebrafish. In addition to Dr. Wong’s long-standing experience with serial transmission EM, her lab also recently gained experience in performing serial block-face scanning EM on the retina.


Proper functioning of the nervous system requires that neurons assemble their stereotypic wiring patterns during development, as well as maintain these connectivity patterns throughout life. In disease, however, surviving neurons rewire inappropriately as the circuits disassemble. Dr. Wong’s laboratory is interested in elucidating the cellular interactions that shape developing circuits in the retina, and in understanding the capacity by which regenerating circuits can recapture their original synaptic arrangements during repair. During the lecture, Dr. Wong will discuss her laboratory’s studies based on the use of molecular and genetic approaches, live-cell imaging techniques, and electrophysiology, which together have revealed the diverse strategies engaged by retinal neurons to gain and regain their unique wiring patterns.

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