- A realistic multiscale circuit model of the larval zebrafish brain The working group of the BRAIN initiative (BRAIN 2025, a Scientific Vision) identified ?the analysis of circuits of interacting neurons as being particularly rich in opportunity, with potential for revolutionary advances?. They further pointed out that ?truly understanding a circuit requires identifying and characterizing the component cells, defining their synaptic connections with one another, observing their dynamic patterns of activity as their circuit functions in vivo during behavior, and perturbing these patterns to test their significance. It also requires an understanding of the algorithms that govern information processing within a circuit and between interacting circuits in the brain as a whole?. We propose to generate a realistic multiscale circuit model of the larval zebrafish brain ? the multiscale virtual fish (MVF), which is well aligned with the BRAIN initiative's guidelines. The model will be based on algorithms inferred from behavioral assays and it will span spatial ranges across three levels: from the nanoscale at the synaptic level, to the microscale describing local circuits, to the macroscale brain-wide activity patterns distributed across many regions. The model will be constrained and validated by optogenetic interrogation and sparse connectomics of identified circuit elements 1? ,2?. The ultimate purpose is to explain and simulate the quantitative and qualitative nature of behavioral outputs in response to sensory inputs across various timescales, and to explore how these findings might integrate with parallel work in two other important behavioral model systems, ? the ?Drosophila larva and the rat. Our prior U01 project achieved the first instantiation of this model, whereby we successfully dissected the optomotor response (OMR)1? ?, where a larval zebrafish will turn and swim to match the direction of a whole-field visual stimulus ?3?5.? We will build on this model by achieving three further aims: First, we will expand the OMR project with four additional ethologically relevant behaviors: phototaxis, rheotaxis, escape, and hunting. We will extract the precise algorithms underlying each behavior and develop a version of the circuit model to understand their neural implementation. Second, we will further refine the model to account for multimodal integration and decision making, events that naturally happen when conflicting stimuli driving different behaviors are presented simultaneously. For example, a fish might be driven to execute a left turn by whole field motion moving to the left (OMR), while simultaneously being induced to turn right by increased brightness on its right side (phototaxis). Third, we will examine how internal brain states, such as hunger or stress, influence and modulate the specific behaviors (Aim 1) or behavioral interactions (Aim 2). Implementation of neurochemical modulation into the framework of the MVF will be achieved through simulation of highly conserved neuromodulatory neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin, acetylcholine, epinephrine and dopamine. To uncover generalizable principles of circuit design and function, we will compare our findings with those from two other model systems, the fruit fly larva and the rat. This will serve to elucidate the rules, motifs and algorithms of neural circuit function that transcend the potential idiosyncrasies of any given model.

Public Health Relevance

The research plan we propose aims at a comprehensive multi-level understanding of how neural circuits generate behavior, of how decisions are made under conflicting stimulus conditions and of how neural circuit function is modulated by long term internal state changes like hunger, stress and loneliness. All of these processes form the modular foundations of human cognition and the human mind in health and disease. A better understanding of such basic principles can help guide appropriate medical interventions to repair malfunctioning neural circuits and help restore the affected behaviours.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Program--Cooperative Agreements (U19)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZNS1)
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Gnadt, James W
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Harvard University
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