B.A., Smith College
Ph.D., Yale University
The brain is one of the most exquisitely complex networks in the known universe, and its precise connectivity is established through a convergence of genetic and environmental influences (i.e., nature and nurture, respectively). While many of the genetic factors that drive early stages of embryonic brain development are known, we still lack a comprehensive understanding of how the environment—in the form of sensory experiences—shapes neural circuits in the developing brain. We unexpectedly discovered that sensory experiences engage microglia, a unique class of brain-resident immune cells, to promote the refinement of synaptic connections between neurons early in postnatal life. Based upon this finding, the Cheadle lab combines functional, structural, and genomics approaches to systematically disentangle the mechanisms microglia and neurons use to interact with one another to facilitate postnatal brain development, and to understand how impairments in microglial function contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders.