Many psychiatric disorders are considered to have neurodevelopmental origins and are influenced by genetic and environmental risk factors.
The long-term goal of Dr. Wang’s laboratory is to understand how genetic and experiential factors impact the developmental trajectory and functional architecture of brain circuits critically involved in psychiatric disorders in order to develop improved treatment and management for these diseases. Among the core deficits associated with serious psychiatric disability, the impairment of executive function, affecting the planning, initiation and regulation of goal-directed behaviors, has been increasingly highlighted as of central importance.
Normal executive function in goal-directed behavior depends on the frontal lobe, and functional brain imaging studies have revealed altered activities in this brain region in patients suffering from schizophrenia, depression and drug addiction. However, much less is known about the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which genetic and environmental factors perturb the development and function of frontal cortical circuits. Lack of such knowledge has hampered the identification of key cellular targets and molecular pathways for therapeutic interventions.
The current focus of Dr. Wang’s laboratory is to elucidate the basic cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying experience-dependent regulation of frontal cortical circuits in model organisms. A variety of cutting-edge technologies in molecular genetic engineering, in vivo multi-photon imaging, optogenetic neural modulation, electrophysiology, and behavioral analyses are being developed and integrated in the laboratory to perturb frontal cortical circuit development and function, and to investigate the ability of the circuit to change in response to both normal and pathological experience. Particularly, Dr. Wang’s group is interested in identifying and characterizing the molecular and cellular changes in the frontal cortical circuits that are regulated by the internal drives, environmental exposures and social interactions of an animal. Furthermore, Dr. Wang’s group is interested in examining the neurophysiological correlates of these molecular and cellular changes and determining the mechanisms by which these changes are integrated in the cortical circuits to control behavioral decisions and motor plans.
Finally, Dr. Wang’s group is interested in evaluating the impacts of psychiatric risk factors and treatment strategies on experience-dependent molecular and cellular changes in the frontal cortical circuits through molecular genetic manipulation and optical imaging and probing.