The Blitz lab is interested in how animals produce different versions of behaviors.  For instance, what are the signals that inform the central nervous system that an animal should walk instead of run, or that food consistency has changed and it should produce a different version of chewing?  We aim to understand the changes in properties of individual neurons and their synaptic connections that enable the same neural circuits to produce different motor outputs, and thus different versions of behaviors. These questions are being addressed in a model system, the stomatogastric nervous system of the Jonah crab, Cancer borealis.


Katie Mark dissecting out a thoracic ganglion.

Ongoing research includes determining (1) the role of circuit feedback to circuit inputs, (2) how the same modulator acts simultaneously at multiple sites, (3) how the release of neuromodulators is controlled, and (4) the cellular and synaptic mechanisms underlying switching between different motor outputs. We address these questions at multiple levels from single neurons to circuits to muscle activity patterns.

Electrophysiology setup: Recording from many neurons in the crab nervous system simultaneously.

We use the crustacean stomatogastric nervous system, due to its many experimental advantages and the fact that it operates comparably to larger, mammalian circuits.
Our electrophysiological approaches include extracellular and intracellular recordings from identified neurons and muscles (e.g., current-, voltage-, and dynamic-clamp recording techniques). We combine these techniques with anatomical approaches (e.g., immunocytochemistry, single neuron dye-fills, tract tracing and confocal microscopy) to better understand how the nervous system selects appropriate motor outputs. For more information on current projects in the lab, see our Research page.


Happy Crab Girl!


Jack Latimer recording electrical junction potentials (EJPs) from muscles controlling crab chewing at one of the electrophysiology rigs.







poc mcn1 feedback plasticity

Plasticity of network feedback. A, Confocal image of a neurohormonal organ, the ACO, with depth coding applied. B, Network neuron AB provides feedback to the identified modulatory network input MCN1. C, Control feedback strength from AB (active during each PD neuron burst) is relatively weak, having little influence on MCN1 activity. D, Peptide release from the ACO strengthens AB feedback resulting in rhythmic interruptions in MCN1 activity. This activity pattern is essential for eliciting a distinct version of chewing output from the circuit. Swallie, Monti and Blitz (2015) PLoS ONE 10: e0142956; Blitz and Nusbaum (2012) J Neurosci 32:9182.





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