Hearing is one of our most important senses and is ultimately the responsibility of the auditory system. Processing that occurs within the central auditory system enables us to unconsciously sort out meaningful sounds from background noise, to localize the source of sounds, and to determine whether a sound is noteworthy of our attention. These sophisticated auditory tasks that we perform routinely depend upon specialized neural circuits that compute subtle differences in the shape, timing, and intensity of stimuli as they arrive at each ear.
The circuitry underlying such complex auditory processing requires an elaborate organization. An ordered arrangement of inputs to an auditory center is essential since it not only preserves information that has been processed downstream, but it also provides the foundation for a neural network that is capable of integrating that information before it is relayed on to the next level of the system. The focus of my research laboratory is to elucidate the mechanisms that establish frequency-specific circuits in the auditory system prior to experience. To accomplish this, we utilize a combination of neuroanatomical, cell culture, and molecular approaches to explore how a family of signaling molecules (Eph-ephrins) influences auditory circuit formation. Additionally, we perform a variety of physiological and behavioral assessments in control and transgenic mice to determine the functional importance of these guidance molecules. Insights gained from our research are clinically relevant as they may help guide new treatment strategies for the hearing impaired and those suffering from tinnitus, as well as being directly applicable to the fields of plasticity, recovery, and regeneration.