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I am a Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute Faculty Scholar and an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford Medical School. Originally from Germany, I received my undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from the University of Madison, Wisconsin. I then completed my PhD at the University of Cambridge in the UK, where I trained as a developmental biologist and studied the cellular mechanisms underlying early Drosophila nervous system development. During my postdoc at Columbia University, I began working with mouse as a model system, and became interested in mechanisms that underlie sensory-motor circuit connectivity in the spinal cord. I continued to explore the development and molecular regulation of spinal circuity as an Assistant Professor at the Sloan Kettering Institute in New York City. During this time, the focus of my laboratory further expanded to include neuronal circuits that underlie sexual function and gut motility.
The lab’s goal is to understand the molecular basis of neuronal circuit formation. We are particularly interested in circuits that underlie locomotion, sexual function and gut motility.Spinal circuits underlying locomotor function:Local inhibitory microcircuits have a fundamental role in shaping animal behavior. In the mammalian spinal cord inhibitory interneurons modulate the sensory-motor signaling that controls locomotion. We are using a specific interneuron circuit to understand (i) how distinct neuronal populations are generated, (ii) how these distinct neuronal populations recognize and choose their correct synaptic partners from among different available targets, and (iii) how postsynaptic signals induce the differentiation of presynaptic terminals in service of balanced circuit function.Spinal circuitry of sexual function:During mammalian copulation, spinal circuits reflexively integrate sexually-specific sensory information. We are performing anatomical reconstructions of erectile circuits in the spinal cord, and are analyzing copulatory behavior in males with disrupted interneuron circuitry.Enteric nervous system structure and function:The enteric nervous system (ENS) in the gut contains more neurons than the spinal cord and presents a translational model relevant to many human illnesses. However, relatively little is known about the development, connectivity and function of ENS circuitry. The mouse ENS is experimentally tractable and allows application of molecular genetic and high-resolution imaging techniques, as well as innovative in vivo experimental approaches. We aim to (i) map ENS circuit connectivity and (ii) explore functional consequences of ENS circuit abnormalities.