New Assistant Professor: Aryn Gittis, Ph.D. -Department of Biological Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New Assistant Professor: Aryn Gittis, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Appointment, Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease
Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of California, San Diego

I study the organization and function of neural circuits in the basal ganglia, a primary motor control system in the brain. In particular, I am interested in how neurons in the basal ganglia wire together to create circuits and how these circuits are changed by experience and in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and dystonia. Developing a better understanding of how neural circuits are organized in the basal ganglia brings us closer to the ability to develop better treatments for a broad spectrum of human diseases.

My lab completes this research in mice because specific neural circuits for electrophysiological analysis and direct activation can be genetically labeled.

It is also an exciting time for basal ganglia research. In the last 10 years, new tools have been developed that enable an unprecedented ability to target and manipulate neural circuits in living animals. These tools are especially powerful in the basal ganglia, where neurons with very different functions are all intermingled with each other. Now, we have the ability to turn these different cell types on and off with high precision, enabling direct analysis of how complex neural circuits in the basal ganglia regulate behavior.

Over the next 20 years, I predict we’ll see even more novel techniques to specifically manipulate neural circuits. It is my hope that we can translate these advances in basic research into new strategies to repair basal ganglia function in a variety of human diseases.

To further my research, I am collaborating with Dr. Alison Barth’s lab. We would like to understand how sensory information affects the function of the basal ganglia, which is typically thought of as a motor circuit. I am also excited about the possibility of collaborating with computer scientists or mathematicians to develop more useful computer models of basal ganglia function.

Photo: By Alexander de Ronde for the Department of Biological Sciences