Animals can generate an infinite variety of motor behaviors, from simple actions such as walking to highly complex movements like object manipulation or speech. Not surprisingly, many different systems across numerous brain areas need to communicate and synchronize to ensure accurate execution of motor programs. The aim of the lab is to understand how brainstem circuits participate in the generation of motor behaviors in health and disease. In particular, we are trying to address three main basic questions: 1) how specific elements of forebrain and brainstem motor circuits influence each other to generate a coordinated motor command; 2) how these interactions are altered during pathological conditions; 3) how these circuits are modified by activity-dependent plasticity mechanisms.
To answer these questions, we use a combination of state-of-the-art methodologies, including mouse genetics, viral circuit tracing, in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiology of identified neuronal subpopulations, optogenetics and pharmacogenetics, and quantitative behavioral analysis. This strategy allows us to unravel the circuit elements underlying specific aspects of motor behavior with the final goal that this knowledge will aid the design of new therapeutic approaches to treat specific symptoms of neurodegenerative motor syndromes.