I have always been fascinated by neuroscience and brain development. Research advances over the past decade have uncovered important aspects of brain function as well as the specific neural circuits that control them. However, we’re still investigating how these circuits, especially those related to neuropsychiatric disease, are established and refined.
Since joining Cincinnati Children’s in 2001, I’ve studied the development of neural circuits in the mammalian forebrain, particularly those that comprise the basal ganglia. Degeneration of these brain circuits, which control voluntary movements, leads to most of the behavioral changes observed in Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Interestingly, because these neural circuits are responsible for appropriate behavior, they are implicated in childhood neuropsychiatric disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette syndrome and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
My colleagues and I hope to uncover the molecular genetic mechanisms that control the normal formation of basal ganglia circuits. By disrupting or augmenting these circuits' formation, we hope to learn how normal behaviors are altered. This knowledge will help us generate mouse models of certain behaviors that characterize childhood neuropsychiatric disorders, paving the way for the development of improved therapeutics.
Our research group has been instrumental in characterizing the embryonic neural progenitor sources of the different neuronal subtypes that comprise the basal ganglia and broader ventral telencephalic neuronal subtypes. We have also contributed significantly to the current understanding of how these progenitor domains are established in the developing brain.
In 2012, I was named the Robert and Sarah McLaurin Chair in Pediatric Neurosurgery. In this role, I oversee and mentor the basic research activities of faculty in the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery. I also serve on the editorial boards of two journals, the Development and Developmental Neuroscience.