Lin Tian holds a B.S. in neuroscience from the University of Science and Technology of
China and a Ph.D. in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology from Northwestern University. She completed postdoctoral training at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus, where she developed a toolbox of ultrasensitive neural activity sensors that have been widely utilized. Her current work is a combination of neural activity sensor development and applications. Tian has received the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, Human Frontier Science Program Young Investigator Grant, Hartwell Foundation Individual Biomedical Research Award and NIH BRAIN Initiative grants.
The altered dynamics of synaptic transmission have been implicated in a number of human neurological and psychiatric diseases, including Parkinson’s, schizophrenia and addiction. However, how complex patterns of neural activity at multiple synapses interact to drive changes in circuit connectivity remains poorly defined. To address this question, we must determine the spatiotemporal relationships of different types of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators with synaptic resolution in a defined circuitry. Recent breakthroughs in modern microscopy and protein-based fluorescence sensors hold great promise to access synaptic transmission with needed molecular and cell type specificity and spatiotemporal resolutions. Tian and her collaborators have generated a sensor for the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and demonstrated its utility for detection of fast signaling events in worm, fish, fly and mouse. To further expand the kinds of neural activity that can be measured with genetically encoded indicators, they applied the established sensor design and optimization platform to the development of a set of specific, targetable and sensitive sensors for direct measurement of neurotransmitters, including gamma-aminobutyric acid and the biogenic amines. Application of these imaging tools will enable neuroscientists to obtain a dynamic and comprehensive view of synaptic transmission in action to decipher the codes for transferring information across neural circuitry and systems.