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The Calcium-sensing Receptor is a Key Regulator of Sensorimotor Decision-making in Hindbrain Neurons

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

9:30 AM-10:30 AM

BIOMED Special Seminar

The Calcium-sensing Receptor (CaSR) is a Key Regulator of Sensorimotor Decision-making in Hindbrain Neurons

Hannah Shoenhard
PhD Candidate
Granato Neuroscience Laboratory
University of Pennsylvania

Decision-making is a key function of nervous systems. As such, a major goal of neuroscience is to develop an integrated understanding of how genes influence the functioning of decision-making circuits. Larval zebrafish, a genetic model organism, perform sensorimotor decisions, making them a powerful system to dissect the circuit neurobiology of a simple form of decision-making using genetic and computational methods.

In this talk, I will present recent findings on the circuit processes and components by which the Calcium Sensing Receptor (CaSR) gene influences a simple acoustically-evoked decision in larval zebrafish. Specifically, CaSR acts acutely in neurons downstream of sensory transduction and upstream of the activation of the neurons that mediate behavioral outputs.

To pinpoint specific neuronal populations by which CaSR influences sensorimotor decision-making, I developed a novel unbiased computational technique that implicated a hindbrain region as a potential locus of CaSR’s effects. Overexpressing CaSR specifically in this hindbrain region is sufficient to alter decision-making, implicating the region in behavioral regulation for the first time. My work demonstrates a novel strategy for identifying where vertebrate genes act to affect behavioral phenotypes and places a decision-influencing gene in its circuit context.   
Hannah Shoenhard is a graduate student in neuroscience in the lab of Michael Granato at the University of Pennsylvania. There, she explores the genetic and circuit basis of decision-making in larval zebrafish using genetic, behavioral, and computational techniques. Her research interests include leveraging the power of genetics to understand how behaviorally-relevant circuits develop and function.

Outside of her graduate work, Hannah has collaborated with Philadelphia Public Schools to create and distribute high school biology lesson plans on topics like CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing and stem cell therapy. She graduated with a double major in neuroscience and philosophy from Scripps College, a women’s college in Claremont, California.

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