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The Seth Tomchik Laboratory

Unraveling the neuronal mechanisms of learning, memory, and genetic disorders

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Research

We are broadly interested in understanding how our experiences shape us. One of the most important functions of the brain is its ability to form memories, allowing us to adjust our behavior based on our past experiences. Because this flexibility is so central to the function of our brain, memory impairment is catastrophic to individuals, their families, and the health care system. Our research focuses on how brain plasticity works in normal conditions and how it is impaired in genetic disorders. Projects in the lab aim to address the following major questions:

How does learning reroute information flow in the brain?  Learning generates neuronal and synaptic plasticity in the brain.  We are imaging these changes in the brain in vivo, dissecting the molecular and circuit mechanisms.

How do neuromodulatory circuits impact learning?  Neuromodulatory circuits, such as those that release dopamine, impact how we perceive the world and modulate learning & memory. We are studying how these circuits affect arousal, salience, and learning.

How do genetic disorders affect cognitive function and behavior?  Do alterations in metabolism play a role?  Genetic disorders such as neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) affect multiple aspects of physiology, cognition, and behavior. NF1 increases the risk for other disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder. We are testing how genetic mutations underlying NF1 impact neuronal function, with an eye toward future interventions.

Latest Publications

Associative learning drives longitudinally-graded presynaptic plasticity of neurotransmitter release along axonal compartments
Stahl, A., Noyes, N.C., Boto, T., Botero, V., Broyles, C.N., Jing, M., Zeng, J., King, L.B., Li, Y., Davis, R.L., Tomchik, S.M. (2022)
eLife 11:e76712

In this manuscript, we found that associative learning alters the release of acetylcholine in a compartmentalized manner from neurons that participate in encoding olfactory memories. The project was led by Aaron Stahl, in collaboratation with Nathaniel Noyes, Ronald L. Davis, Yulong Li, and others.

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