The Self-Repairing Brain: Mechanisms Underlying Plasticity in Sensory Pathways?
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Research in the Pallas lab is aimed at understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying development and plasticity of sensory pathways in the brain. Our approach is to alter normal developmental programs, either through sensory deprivation or surgical alteration, and study how the neural circuits compensate for the alterations. We have discovered that at both the cortical and subcortical levels, circuits in sensory pathways exhibit remarkable levels of compensatory plasticity. By studying how circuits can be rewired and how excitatory and inhibitory synapses respond, we have demonstrated that inhibitory synaptic plasticity is much more significant than previously appreciated. We are currently investigating how the axon guidance factor ephrin-A and the neurotrophic factor BDNF are involved in orchestrating these plastic responses. Understanding the mechanisms underlying compensatory plasticity is necessary in order to harness them for therapeutic purposes.