Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR): Transforming autism research, training and care -- improving lives via Open Science

Jean-Francois Poulin

Jean-Francois Poulin

Jean-Francois Poulin, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University.

He joined the Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR) in 2021. 

What sparked your interest in autism research?

My interest in autism stems from the appreciation of the complexity and rewarding aspects of human interactions.

We constantly send verbal and non-verbal signals throughout our days that are often misinterpreted or unconsciously processed. Fortunately, the repertoire of social behaviours is more limited in rodents, making my task of understanding the conserved circuits that underlie these behaviours slightly easier.

What are your research goals?

My goal is to identify an evolutionary conserved neuronal circuit architecture that underlies social behaviours, and determine how these circuits are affected in autism.

By identifying circuit/molecular alterations that cause the behavioural manifestation common to all forms of autism, we believe we can devise new treatment options to alleviate some of the symptoms and improve people's lives.

How is being a member of ACAR helping to advance your work? 

ACAR has provided the funds to recruit a graduate student and start our autism-focused research project.

By supporting our work, ACAR had my lab venture in autism research, which might not have been possible otherwise. Through membership, I hope to gain a better comprehension of the reality of living with autism that is not obvious at the laboratory.


Jean-Francois Poulin, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University.

His research focuses on mapping genetically-defined dopamine circuits and their implications in symptoms of neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Poulin obtained his doctorate from the Université Laval where he studied the role of endogenous opioids in emotional behaviours.

He later pursued a post-doctoral training at Northwestern University, where he identified subtypes of dopamine neurons based on single-cell gene expression profiling and developed sophisticated mouse transgenic approaches to manipulate dopamine circuits.

His lab now hopes to parse the role of these circuits in behaviors and diseases, for instance by determining the role of dopamine in social behaviour in mice models of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Research Areas

Dopamine circuits

List of Selected Publications

Pereira Luppi M, Azcorra M, Caronia-Brown G, Poulin JF, Gaertner Z, Gatica S, Moreno-Ramos OA, Nouri N, Dubois M, Ma YC, Ramakrishnan C, Fenno L, Kim YS, Deisseroth K, Cicchetti F, Dombeck DA, Awatramani R. Sox6 expression distinguishes dorsally and ventrally biased dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra with distinctive properties and embryonic origins. Cell Rep. 2021 Nov 9;37(6):109975. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109975.

Poulin JF, Luppi MP, Hofer C, Caronia G, Hsu PK, Chan CS, Awatramani R. PRISM: A Progenitor-Restricted Intersectional Fate Mapping Approach Redefines Forebrain Lineages. Dev Cell. 2020 Jun 22;53(6):740-753.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2020.05.019.

Poulin JF, Gaertner Z, Moreno-Ramos OA, Awatramani R. Classification of Midbrain Dopamine Neurons Using Single-Cell Gene Expression Profiling Approaches. Trends Neurosci. 2020 Mar;43(3):155-169. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2020.01.004. Epub 2020 Feb 11.

Poulin JF, Caronia G, Hofer C, Cui Q, Helm B, Ramakrishnan C, Chan CS, Dombeck DA, Deisseroth K, Awatramani R. Mapping projections of molecularly defined dopamine neuron subtypes using intersectional genetic approaches. Nat Neurosci. 2018 Sep;21(9):1260-1271. doi: 10.1038/s41593-018-0203-4. Epub 2018 Aug 13.

Poulin JF, Tasic B, Hjerling-Leffler J, Trimarchi JM, Awatramani R. Disentangling neural cell diversity using single-cell transcriptomics. Nat Neurosci. 2016 Aug 26;19(9):1131-41. doi: 10.1038/nn.4366.

Poulin JF, Zou J, Drouin-Ouellet J, Kim KY, Cicchetti F, Awatramani RB. Defining midbrain dopaminergic neuron diversity by single-cell gene expression profiling. Cell Rep. 2014 Nov 6;9(3):930-43. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2014.10.008. Epub 2014 Oct 30.


Email: j-francois.poulin [at]

Phone: 514-398-7863


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