How does the brain control movement of the body?
In mammals, motor cortex is specialized for the planning, initiation, control, and learning of movements. But the computations performed by this circuit are not known. My research seeks to (a) identify the specific connections of defined cell types in motor cortex, (b) explain how these specific connections drive neuronal firing, and (c) characterize the connections that change strength during learning. Thus, our goal is a circuit diagram of the brain with a functional understanding of how the circuit processing information.
The tools needed to define cortical circuits are being rapidly developed: New transgenic mouse lines label specific sets of excitatory pyramidal neurons and inhibitory interneurons in mouse neocortex, giving us access to defined cell types. We use these to identify cell-type specific inputs and outputs in the motor cortex. Different cell types are believed to play distinct roles in the local circuit, so understanding their specific inputs will help explain the specific response properties of each cell type. New optical and genetic methods for circuit mapping make it possible to independently excite one or more neuron populations, thus quantifying the connectivity of local and long-range inputs to different cortical cell types.
In 2016, Sandra received her B.A. in Biology from Fisk University in Nashville, TN. During college, she worked as a research assistant in Dr. Nelms’ lab at Fisk where she studied transcriptional regulation and metabolism of dopamine in C. elegans. To further explore her new-found interest in neuroscience, Sandra joined the Hooks lab in June 2016. Her project focuses on identifying local and long-range inputs to defined cell types in mouse motor cortex via neuroanatomical approaches using genetically modified rabies virus, complemented by whole brain clearing, imaging, and reconstruction. Sandra aspires to become a physician-scientist, and she will be attending medical school in Fall, 2019.
When not in the lab, she enjoys spending quality time with her friends, exercising, making DIY projects, hairstyling, listening to music, growing her spiritual faith, and exploring Pittsburgh.
Tae is a graduate student in the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh (CNUP) program with a strong interest in development and plasticity. She is mastering whole cell recording to study the development of inhibitory microcircuits. She is also leading the lab's effort to implement a motor skill learning task (rotarod) and identify circuit changes during motor learning.
Roman is a postdoctoral researcher using paired recordings and dual channel photostimulation to study the microcircuits underlying feedforward inhibition in the brain. He is interested in studying how these cortical circuits change during dementia, using viral expression of mutant proteins and transgenic mice as model systems for degeneration.
Quincy is undergraduate at Pitt (Class of 2021) with a neuroscience major and minors in chemistry and French language. He joined the Hooks lab as a freshman with plans to pursue a PhD and continue neuroscience research after graduation. He's still exploring different aspects of neuroscience but his current interests lie in motor movement in respect to the neuromuscular junction as well as neuropharmacology. He has developed an expertise in confocal microscopy and individual neuron reconstruction while in the lab.
Sid is an undergraduate at Pitt studying neuroscience (Class of 2021). He is interested in studying how neuronal connectivity changes in motor cortex during motor skill learning. His project is to develop methods to track and quantify movement in high-speed video. Outside of the lab, he is also interested in East Asian culture and politics.
Collaborator and ECE Master's Student
Madhumita is a student in the Masters Program in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University (2018 - 2019). Her research interest is to understand the brain during different tasks and its response to different stimuli through computational approaches. I am particularly interested in analyzing and understanding the information flow in brain regions during these tasks.
Elsie is a undergraduate at Pitt studying neuroscience (Class of 2020). She's interested in studying long-range connectivity using monosynaptic rabies tracing techniques and cleared brains.