Email: brian.chen [at] mcgill.ca (brian.chen @ mcgill.ca)
Tel.: 514-934-1934 ext. 42379
Associate Professor | Neurology & Neurosurgery, Medicine (Dept. & Faculty)
Researcher | Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre
How to build a brain
I am interested in how to build a brain. Fortunately, the instructions on building a brain are written molecularly in the genome, and so my research focuses on deciphering these instructions by uncovering the different molecules and strategies that neurons in the brain use to connect with each other. This will then help us understand how these wiring instructions can go awry in abnormal brain development.
One of the central puzzles in neuroscience is how a neuron chooses the correct synaptic contacts during development when faced with tens of thousands of potential targets. My previous research interests have centered on how the experience of an animal can refine neural circuits, and more recently I have investigated how hard-wired neural circuits underlying innate behaviors wire up.
To uncover the different molecules and strategies underlying the wiring instructions neurons use to self-assemble into a neural circuit, my lab combines high-resolution imaging techniques with advanced molecular genetics in different model systems to look inside living animals while their neurons form synapses. My research uses the fruit flyDrosophila melanogasterto identify underlying genetic mechanisms of neural wiring, and we apply these findings to the mouse neocortex to investigate the common molecular rules that might be used to wire up the human brain.
My lab currently investigates 3 main topics:
1) My Magnum Opus: What is the comprehensive list of molecules that are necessary and sufficient to completely wire up a neuron's hard-wired synaptic connectivity?
2) Measuring protein synthesis in real time in single cells in the living animal: We have recently developed a technique to track when, where, and how much a protein is produced instantaneously in a single cell in the living animal. We use this technique to watch protein synthesis at developing synapses in vivo to understand how these proteins are used during synapse formation.
3) Democratizing access to genomics: Accessing bioinformatics data can be intimidating because of the large amounts of complex biological information involved. I created GeneDig.org to lower the barrier of entry into genomics by allowing easy and efficient access to this information. I believe that access to genomic information is important, and my goal is to make all genomic information easily accessible and useful.Try it out: GeneDig.org
For more details see the Chen Lab Website.