PiN Faculty Member - Matthew Pecot, PhD

Matthew Pecot, PhD

Assistant Professor of Neurobiology

Harvard Medical School
Department of Neurobiology
Warren Alpert 363
Boston, MA 02115
Visit my lab page here.

Our nervous systems comprise vast numbers of different neuronal cell types, yet in order for us to detect, interpret, and respond to changes in our environment, neurons must be organized into highly precise synaptic networks. How do neurons navigate cellular complexity and synapse with the right partners amidst so many inappropriate ones? Our goal is to identify general molecular principles underlying precise neural connectivity.

We study the molecular basis of neural connectivity in the fly visual system which comprises a stereotyped cellular architecture and contains genetic tools that allow manipulation of specific cell types during development with single cell resolution. In flies, visual information is captured by photoreceptors in the retina and processed in the brain by large ensembles of neurons. Anatomically, these neurons are organized in a modular fashion into columns and layers. Columns process information captured from discrete points in visual space and within each column different visual features (e.g. motion and color) are computed within specific layers. Each layer contains synapses between many neurons but not all neurons in a layer synapse with each other, suggesting molecular determinants underlie synaptic specificity.

Using the advanced genetic toolkit for Drosophila and cell-specific tools available in the visual system we design creative and rigorous experiments to address the following questions:

(1) How do neurons achieve their unique morphologies and layer specificities?

The organization of synapses between specific neurons into layers provides a structural basis for extracting salient features from the environment. Thus, the ability of neurons to elaborate layer-specific arborizations is fundamental to neural circuit assembly and information processing. By understanding how highly related neurons innervate distinct layers we aim to identify molecular strategies underlying layer specificity.

(2) Within layers how do neurons discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate synaptic partners?

We have identified two families of heterophilic cell recognition molecules whose members are expressed in a complementary manner by specific synaptic pairs. We envision that heterophilic interactions between these molecules provide a common mechanism by which neurons form connections with specific partners. We are currently assessing whether and how these molecules contribute to synaptic specificity.

(3) How do interactions between synaptic partners lead to synapse formation in vivo?

We have developed tools to study synapse formation in vivo between genetically accessible synaptic pairs. Our goal is to identify cell surface molecules that mediate interactions between synaptic partners and understand how those interactions lead to synapse formation.

Last Update: 12/15/2015


For a complete listing of publications click here.



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