RESEARCH 

Cellular and Synaptic Basis of Sentience and Sapience

We aim to obtain mechanistic understandings of how we sense external world and how we attach meanings to sensation a priori and a posteriori

Most of us love watching beautiful pictures, eating delicious foods, and listening to favorite songs, consciously or subconsciously. The ultimate goal of our laboratory is to understand how we establish preferences for certain types of sensory stimuli. Toward this end, we investigate the information processing of individual neurons and neuronal networks related to sensation and sensory perception.

 

To identify cell types we study and to manipulate the activity of specific neuronal circuits, we use genetically engineerable mammals such as mice. Because such animals don't speak, we infer animals' thoughts by quantifying behavioral motor output. Neuroscientists have long studied the correlation between neuronal activities and behavioral outcomes. Recently they have obtained a new tool called optogenetics to reveal the causality of neuronal activity for behavioral execution. However, we still lack knowledge of the mechanisms underlying such correlation and causality; we don't know precisely how the specific neuronal populations give rise to action potentials in a given time window during behavior. It is also poorly understood why these action potentials are essential for resultant motor outputs. We tackle these issues using bottom-up approaches: in vivo patch-clamp recordings directly from identified neuronal subtypes in awake behaving animals, in combination with other electrophysiological recordings as well as a variety of genetic, optical, and histological techniques.

 

We are also keen on creating innovative technologies that can be widely applicable to neuroscience and beyond. We recently developed "X-ray-mediated optogenetics" (Matsubara et al., Nature Communications, 2021), which enables minimally invasive, wireless control of cellular functions deep in the body. We will refine this technology to yield broader applications beyond basic biology to treat various diseases. ​