Dr. Cary Lai is Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Program in Neuroscience and the Jack and Linda Gill Chair in Neuroscience. He earned his BS in Biology from California Institute of Technology and his PhD in Biology from the University of California.
His lab uses molecular biological approaches to study the nervous system. One major area of interest is the role of neuregulin-ErbB signaling in neuronal and glial function. The neuregulins are a collection of polypeptides that activate a family of transmembrane signaling molecules, the receptor tyrosine kinases known as the "ErbBs". There is considerable interest in this signaling pathway as the neuregulin-1 gene has been implicated as a risk factor for the neuropsychiatric disorder schizophrenia. The neuregulin receptor ErbB4 is expressed by multiple populations of migrating neuronal precursors in the developing brain and our studies have helped to show that alterations in ErbB4 function may influence the final placement of these cells. These changes may lead to alterations in brain circuitry, a finding that provides one potential mechanism by which neuregulin-ErbB signaling may contribute to an increased risk for schizophrenia. One of the current lab interests is to understand the precise molecular role that ErbB4 plays within the migrating neuronal precursors.
A second focus of the lab has been the development of transgenic mouse tools useful for studying the nervous system. Our goal has been to produce lines of mice that permit both temporal and spatial regulation of gene expression in specific subsets of cells in the brain. Using a BAC-based approach, the lab has successfully produced lines of transgenic mice that permit regulated expression in cholinergic neurons and are developing similar lines for use in dopaminergic neurons and in the medium spiny neurons in the striatum. The overall goal is to use these mice to study the neurodegenerative process, and we anticipate that these lines will facilitate efforts to gain an improved understanding of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.