Xiaoyin Chen, Ph.D.

Assistant Investigator, Allen Institute

Xiaoyin Chen is an assistant investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Chen and his team are developing and applying sequencing-based neuroanatomical approaches to understand the wiring logic of neuronal types across development and evolution.

Chen obtained his B.S in biology at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. He then moved to New York City and completed his Ph.D with Martin Chalfie at Columbia University, where he studied mechanosensation in the nematode C. elegans. Chen then joined Tony Zador’s lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a postdoctoral researcher. In the Zabor Lab, he developed BARseq, a sequencing-based neuroanatomical technique with cellular resolution and unparalleled throughput. His work in developing BARseq was featured by the NIH Director’s Blog, BRAIN Initiative Alliance, and various news outlets including Nature, Spectrum and Technology Networks. Chen is a recipient of the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award.

Project: The role of corticostriatal neurons in visual decisions

A group of dots flickers across a screen as a mouse watches. The mouse is tasked with making a decision based on the pattern of dots — are there more dots in the upper half of the screen or in the lower half? If there are more dots in the upper half, for example, the mouse will indicate that by drinking water from a spout the left; if there are more dots in the lower half, the animal will drink water from a spout on the right. Such processes — using sensory input to decide upon an action — are fundamental to any animal’s behavior, including humans. Humans are constantly taking in sensory information and using it to guide our decisions and actions. However, the neuronal circuits underlying visually-based decision-making are unknown. In mice, it has previously been discovered that a brain region called the striatum takes information about sounds from the auditory cortex and uses that information to make decisions. These critical links between the auditory cortex and the striatum are called corticostriatal connections. Are corticostriatal connections critical to visual decision-making as well? Such a result would imply a general role for the striatum in processing not just sound information, but also perceptual information from many senses — positioning that brain region as a hub of sensory-based decision-making. This project plans to use a visual decision-making task to probe this very question. While the mice watch the dots flicker across the screen, the research team will use sophisticated genetic techniques to manipulate the activity of corticostriatal neurons. If, by stimulating or inhibiting corticostriatal neurons they can nudge the mouse to make one decision over another, they will have shown a causal role for these neurons in visual decision-making. These results will have broad implications for how scientists think about sensory information processing in the brain.

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