Dept.: M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Center for Integrative Brain Research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute
Neuroscience Focus Groups:
Part of our work is focused on mechanisms of brain development in transgenic “knockout” mice. The nervous system includes many different kinds of neurons with distinct molecular signatures, and producing this cellular diversity presents an enormous problem of gene regulation. To better understand these processes, we study transcription factors that bind to DNA and activate or repress gene expression in specific classes of neurons. We also study epigenetic modifications of histones that govern the regulation of brain genes. Clarifying these basic developmental mechanisms will provide a context in which we may better understand complex human brain disorders with a developmental component, such as schizophrenia and autism.
Since the move of our laboratory to Seattle in 2010, we have also begun to use our transgenic tools to address neural function. Our main region of interest is the habenula, a poorly understood brain region increasingly implicated in mental disorders, especially depression and addiction. Different populations of habenula neurons lie upstream of serotonin and dopamine pathways in the brainstem, and may have very different functions. We are excited about new experiments in which we are using our developmental and genetic toolkit to control specific neurons in the habenula pathway using “optogenetics”. These new tools have led to some very interesting experiments using electrophysiology and behavioral models, performed together with our collaborators here at CIBR, and at the UW.
The Turner laboratory is housed in the Seattle Childrens’ Research Institute Center for Integrative Brain Research, a highly collaborative, state of the art facility for neuroscience research related to childhood disorders. Undergraduates, UW graduate students, and postdocs are invited to inquire about research opportunities.