Wen-Jun Gao, Ph.D.
Research Summary - Cerebral cortex, especially prefrontal cortex, is the most complex brain region in the central nervous system. Elucidating its diverse functions represents a major challenge in neurobiology. We are interested in the neuronal mechanisms underlying the synaptic signaling and monoaminergic regulation in the prefrontal cortical circuitry, as well as the critical issues involving neuropathology of mental disorders and other neurological diseases. Specifically, we are taking the advantages of in vivo and in vitro preparations to examine the neuronal signaling in both normal animals and clinical models of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and ADHD. Work in my laboratory is currently focused in the following projects: 1) monoaminergic (dopamine and norepinephrine) regulation of synaptic transmissions and local circuitry in the prefrontal cortex; 2) postnatal development of prefrontal local circuitry; 3) the roles of NMDA receptors in the schizophrenia pathological process; and 4) psychostimulant actions on the synaptic plasticity and trafficking of glutamatergic receptors. Our research involves a variety of morphological, physiological, pharmacological, and molecular approaches designed to elucidate the synaptic mechanisms underlying the prefrontal functions. Morphological studies include single-cell labeling, neuronal reconstruction, and immunocytochemistry. Physiological, pharmacological and molecular approaches include multiple whole-cell recordings, drug applications, western blotting, and real-time PCR in fresh brain tissues, acute brain slices, and cell culture preparations. These approaches are mutually supportive with a comprehensive integration across disciplines.