The Pan lab studies how neurons and neural circuits are formed. During normal development, neurons form specific axonal and dendritic structures (filament-like structures in the image below) that allow them to connect with each other and form functional ensembles, called neural circuits. Many serious neurological disorders (autism, down syndrome) are caused by deficits in neuronal morphogenesis and neural circuit development. To understand how normal development occurs and how we may ameliorate abnormal development, we use the zebrafish, a small tropical fish, as our model system. Zebrafish has brains that are similar to humans but much smaller (less than 1 mm in length) and transparent, allowing us to directly observe development in an intact vertebrate organism.
(Above: a live zebrafish larvae, with neurons labeled with fluorescent proteins derived from jelly fish and corals. Image acquired with fluorescent confocal microscopy.)