Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
Ph.D. California Institute of Technology
Sc.B. Brown University
Research Interests: How local circuits in the auditory cortex encode and transform sensory information
Overview: We study how local circuits in the cerebral cortex encode and transform sensory information. We use the rodent auditory cortex as a model system to investigate how cellular and network properties shape cortical responses to a continuous and temporally complex stream of sensory data. Research in my laboratory combines aspects of both cellular, systems, and computational neuroscience, by using the tools of molecular biology and cellular physiology to address systems-level questions. By using a variety of electrophysiological approaches, in particular in vivo whole cell recording methods in combination with molecular manipulations, we are trying to identify the cellular and synaptic mechanisms with which cortical circuits process auditory information, leading ultimately to our perceptual experiences of acoustic streams, such as music and speech.
Vision Drives Accurate Approach Behavior during Prey Capture in Laboratory Mice.
Curr Biol. 2016 Nov 21;26(22):3046-3052
Authors: Hoy JL, Yavorska I, Wehr M, Niell CM
The ability to genetically identify and manipulate neural circuits in the mouse is rapidly advancing our understanding of visual processing in the mammalian brain [1, 2]. However, studies investigating the circuitry that underlies complex ethologically relevant visual behaviors in the mouse have been primarily restricted to fear responses [3-5]. Here, we show that a laboratory strain of mouse (Mus musculus, C57BL/6J) robustly pursues, captures, and consumes live insect prey and that vision is necessary for mice to perform the accurate orienting and approach behaviors leading to capture. Specifically, we differentially perturbed visual or auditory input in mice and determined that visual input is required for accurate approach, allowing maintenance of bearing to within 11° of the target on average during pursuit. While mice were able to capture prey without vision, the accuracy of their approaches and capture rate dramatically declined. To better explore the contribution of vision to this behavior, we developed a simple assay that isolated visual cues and simplified analysis of the visually guided approach. Together, our results demonstrate that laboratory mice are capable of exhibiting dynamic and accurate visually guided approach behaviors and provide a means to estimate the visual features that drive behavior within an ethological context.
PMID: 27773567 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Somatostatin-Expressing Inhibitory Interneurons in Cortical Circuits.
Front Neural Circuits. 2016;10:76
Authors: Yavorska I, Wehr M
Cortical inhibitory neurons exhibit remarkable diversity in their morphology, connectivity, and synaptic properties. Here, we review the function of somatostatin-expressing (SOM) inhibitory interneurons, focusing largely on sensory cortex. SOM neurons also comprise a number of subpopulations that can be distinguished by their morphology, input and output connectivity, laminar location, firing properties, and expression of molecular markers. Several of these classes of SOM neurons show unique dynamics and characteristics, such as facilitating synapses, specific axonal projections, intralaminar input, and top-down modulation, which suggest possible computational roles. SOM cells can be differentially modulated by behavioral state depending on their class, sensory system, and behavioral paradigm. The functional effects of such modulation have been studied with optogenetic manipulation of SOM cells, which produces effects on learning and memory, task performance, and the integration of cortical activity. Different classes of SOM cells participate in distinct disinhibitory circuits with different inhibitory partners and in different cortical layers. Through these disinhibitory circuits, SOM cells help encode the behavioral relevance of sensory stimuli by regulating the activity of cortical neurons based on subcortical and intracortical modulatory input. Associative learning leads to long-term changes in the strength of connectivity of SOM cells with other neurons, often influencing the strength of inhibitory input they receive. Thus despite their heterogeneity and variability across cortical areas, current evidence shows that SOM neurons perform unique neural computations, forming not only distinct molecular but also functional subclasses of cortical inhibitory interneurons.
PMID: 27746722 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]