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The Gao Lab Research

Research Summary

The prefrontal cortex is one of the most complex brain regions in the central nervous system. We are interested in understanding the neuronal mechanisms underlying the synaptic signaling and monoaminergic regulation in the prefrontal cortical circuitry, as well as the critical issues involving neuropathology of mental disorders and other neurological diseases. Specifically, we use both in vivo and in vitro preparations to examine the synaptic signaling and its impact on cognition in both normal animals and clinical models of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, autism and ADHD.

Our research involves a variety of morphological, physiological, pharmacological and molecular approaches designed to elucidate the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the prefrontal function. Morphological studies include single-cell labeling, neuronal tract tracing, neuronal reconstruction and immunocytochemistry. Physiological, pharmacological and molecular approaches include multiple whole-cell patch clamp recordings, optogenetics, AAV-DREADD viral injection, drug administrations, techniques for epigenetic analysis (histone modification, ChiP-seq and DNA methylation), western blotting, laser capture and real-time PCR in fresh brain tissues, acute brain slices, and cell culture preparations. These multidisciplinary approaches enable us to conduct productive research projects associated with the prefrontal cortex and catecholamine systems that are highly relevant to neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and ADHD.

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Synaptic connections between pyramidal neurons and GABAergic interneurons. The neurons were labeled with bicytin during patch clamp recording and reconstructed with Neurolucida system.