NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology FY 2019: Role of early spontaneous neural activity in neocortical circuit assembly

  • Bryant, Sheenah S.L. (PI)

Grant Details


This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2019, Broadening Participation of Groups Under-represented in Biology. The fellowship supports a research and training plan for the Fellow that will increase the participation of groups underrepresented in biology. This project aims at further understanding how adult behavior is shaped through events that occur during brain development. These studies will include new and interesting techniques that will manipulate early brain activity in mice. These NSF funds are also being used to improve networking among underrepresented students through development of an open access website which archives the achievements and research interests of scientists from underrepresented groups. As a Native American herself, the fellow will visit several tribal colleges to attract Native American students into biology. Work throughout the project will engage underrepresented students in numerous aspects of biology and science in general.

New bioluminescent optogenetics technology will be used to unravel the dynamic interactions of subtypes of neurons underlying the wiring blueprint assembled during distinct time windows in the developing brain. Bioluminescent optogenetics utilizes light emitted from a luciferase, triggered in the presence of a small molecule substrate, to activate a tethered light-sensing ion channel, for rapid non-invasive manipulation of cell excitability. Using this tool, the project will test the hypothesis that altering neural activity during early postnatal development in genetically determined populations in the immature cortex modifies synaptogenesis and circuit assembly, and consequently affects circuit connectivity and behavior in the adult organism. Specifically, the Fellow will utilize electrophysiological recordings in brain slices and in live animals to: 1) characterize the functional changes resulting from induced developmental hyperactivity throughout development and in the adult, 2) define the role of layer-specific subtypes of pyramidal neurons in establishing neural circuit trajectories, and 3) determine whether modulation of pyramidal activity during distinct periods of postnatal development will have differential impacts. The project includes wide-ranging training activities for the Fellow, encompassing comprehensive training in scientific skills and concepts, research communication, and development of professional skills. Furthermore, the Fellow is taking on mentoring, teaching and outreach activities towards students from underrepresented groups, particularly Native Americans, in order to promote their recruitment and participation in biology.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date07/1/1906/30/21


  • National Science Foundation: $138,000.00


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