The human brain consists of sets of cells that form networks of dazzling complexity. Much research has focused on understanding the circuits formed by neurons, the electrically-excitable cells that process and transmit information. However, glial cells, the second major cell type in the brain, account for up to ninety percent of human brain cells and more than fifty percent of the brain's volume. For a long time, these cells were believed to have a merely passive, supportive role. However, over the past few years, it has become clear that glial cells make crucial contributions to the formation, operation and adaptation of neural circuitry.
Work in my lab is centered on innovating light microscopic tools that enable the study of these electrically largely non-excitable cells and their interaction with other cells in the intact mammalian brain. We have created tools for cell-type-specific staining and genetic manipulation, for imaging cellular dynamics in awake behaving mammals and for automated analysis of large-scale imaging data. This allows us to directly address longstanding questions regarding glial function in the intact healthy and diseased brain. Resolving these fundamental questions has broad implications for our view of glial cells, the way information is processed in the brain, the interpretation of functional brain imaging signals and the treatment of neurodegenerative brain disease.