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Kara G. Pratt
How neural circuits form and function
I am interested in the functional development of neural circuits and how sensory input regulates this process. It has been well established that external sensory stimuli is necessary for proper circuit development and refinement, but the intracellular mechanism(s) underlying this type of plasticity are not understood. To address these questions at the molecular level, my lab focuses on the developing visual system of the Xenopus laevis tadpole.
Retinal ganglion cells in the eye project their axons to the optic tectum, the visual center of the tadpole brain, where they form synapses directly onto tectal neurons. Because Xenopus tadpoles are transparent and their brains located extremely dorsally, we can record and compare the electrical activity from individual tectal neurons across key stages of development.
As a postdoc in Carlos Aizenman's lab at Brown University, I characterized reciprocal relationship between the amount of synaptic drive received by a tectal neuron and its intrinsic excitability (the ease in which the neuron will fire an action potential): During development, as the amount of synaptic drive increases, the intrinsic excitability decreases. This reciprocal relationship maintains a constant input-output function in the midst of extreme changes in synaptic input. Now, we aim to figure out the intracellular signaling pathways that underlie this relationship between synaptic and intrinsic properties.
Bachelors degree in Arts and Science (University of Delaware)
PhD in Neuroscience (Brandeis University)
Postdoctoral training (Brown University, University of Washington, Harvard)