Jennifer Shum


It still remains a difficult task to determine how neural circuitry encodes behavior. A common method is to lesion neurons and then observe the functional consequences. However, removing entire neurons can have far-reaching and difficult to interpret effects; killing a neuron removes a node from a highly interconnected network, abolishing all information flow into and out of the neuron. A more precise intervention would be to snip individual wires in the neural circuit, blocking information transmission at specific cut-points without killing cells. We accomplish this using femtosecond laser ablation as an in vivo light scalpel with submicrometer precision. In collaboration with Joe Fetcho from the Dept. of Neurobiology and Behavior, I am studying the Mauthner neuron in zebrafish. The Mauthner neuron is a cell that triggers a fast start escape behavior, causing the zebrafish to swim away from a threatening stimulus with reaction times of less than 10 ms. Our aim is to cut the lateral dendrite of the Mauthner neuron while leaving the neuron functional. By studying changes in the escape behavior after cutting the lateral dendrite, we can determine the mechanisms by which this cell incorporates stimulus information and triggers an escape response. I am an undergraduate graduating in May 2008, majoring in Biological Engineering with minors in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. I am currently completing an honors research thesis. I have been a part of the Schaffer Lab since Jan 2006.

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