Somatosensory circuit assembly
We experience an incredible diversity of sensations in the world around us. While these signals can be encoded by receptors and channels in the nerves at your fingertip, they must be properly integrated to generate complex sensory perceptions, like the relief of itch by scratching or pleasure from a gentle touch. However, they can also be transformed into debilitating forms of allodynia, or “other pain,” following nerve damage. The Copits lab studies how different types of neurons encoding somatosensory modalities are assembled into functional circuits. Here we combine transcriptomics with CRISPR-Cas genome editing to identify molecules that regulate synaptic wiring of sensory neurons into the brain and spinal cord and how alterations in these circuits impact sensory behaviors. In parallel we are developing new optical and genetic tools to better understand circuit dynamics, with emphasis on neurodevelopmental disorders and chronic pain states.