Our research is funded by the NIH, and a previous grant from the Deafness Research Foundation.

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Our main goal is to understand how the structure and function of the brain change during development. Brain development is about nature and nurture, so we are particularly interested in discovering mechanisms that control and regulate brain growth and maturation.


We use a combination of anatomical, physiological, molecular and optical techniques, to investigate the development of auditory brainstem circuits involved in sound localization in birds and mammals.



Patterns of spontaneous electrical activity during brain development.

During early stages of development until the onset of hearing, cells in the auditory brainstem exhibit spontaneous patterns of electrical activity that originate in the cochlea (Tritsch et al., 2010). However, little is known about the patterns of activity in larger groups of auditory neurons. In this project we use silicon probes to record multi-unit activity simultaneously across distinct locations in the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB) and neighboring regions in the superior olivary complex of neonate rodents, in vivo. Characterizing the patterns of electrical activity in ensembles of neurons using electrophysiology will facilitate our analysis of auditory map development using two-photon microscopy, to monitor calcium signals in the same in vivo preparation. Supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.


Integration of glial cells into neuronal circuits.

In this project we are using cell birth dating techniques to examine proliferation of glial cell precursors in the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB) a brainstem nucleus involved in sound localization. Deafferentation experiments in developing brain circuits can result in neuronal loss, re-organization of synaptic connections and alterations in the structure of the brain. Therefore, we are currently testing the hypothesis that damage to the inner ear leads to a change in the proliferation of glial cell precursors in the MNTB. These experiments could help explain the role of glial cells in the consolidation of auditory brainstem circuits during postnatal development (Rodriguez-Contreras et al., 2006).


Signals regulating brain growth and maturation.

Unlike humans, where hearing begins in utero, hearing onset in rats occurs during postnatal development. This indicates that the mechanisms controlling hearing development are under genetic control. However, experience can also play a role. In this project we are investigating auditory development in rats reared under standard conditions (naive pups) and rats that are subject to behavioral manipulations during postnatal life. These experiments could provide new vistas on the signals that control the maturation of hearing.