Yao Chen, PhD

Washington University in St. Louis (WU)

Neuromodulators such as dopamine and acetylcholine have profound effects on animal behavior. Altered neuromodulation is associated with most psychiatric disorders, major neurodegenerative disorders, and neuromodulatory systems are targets of almost all drugs of abuse. While specific behaviors have been linked to specific neuromodulators, and while many neuromodulator receptors and their downstream signaling pathways are known, how neuromodulators regulate behavior remains enigmatic.

The knowledge gap exists because our understanding of molecular signaling networks remains largely a static diagram of connections between molecules. Our laboratory attempts to bridge molecular neuroscience and animal behavior by elucidating the spatial and temporal dynamics of biological signals, because they carry critical information that explain subsequent modifications of cells, circuits, and behavior.

Specifically, we aim to understand how spatial and temporal features of neuromodulators and intracellular signals contribute to the functions of neuromodulators and functions of sleep. Understanding these important features will ultimately help treat psychiatric disorders.