Identifying the role of neurotoxic protein aggregates on neuronal network activity and cell health using in vivo imaging
The long-term goal of the Han Lab is to understand and manipulate learning in the hippocampus, a brain area that is impaired in many neurodegenerative and cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. To accomplish this goal we use advanced optical imaging and electrophysiology methods to study neuronal activity in awake, behaving animals. One major line of research in the lab is studying learning-related neuronal activity using two-photon calcium imaging in animals performing a virtual reality behavioral task. This innovative approach allows us to probe neural circuit function from the level of proteins, to networks, to behavior, in real-time. A second major line of research is to apply this methodology to investigate the role of toxic protein aggregates associated with Alzheimer’s disease on neuronal health and function. Here we can study the function of neuronal circuits throughout the life of the animal, with an emphasis on understanding learning deficits in the early stages of cognitive impairment, when therapeutic interventions are more likely to be effective. This information will help us better understand how the neuronal networks underlying learning are impaired in Alzheimer’s and may lay the foundations for targeted approaches for alleviating memory impairment.