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research

From sound waves, odor molecules, and light photons to our perception, sensory information undergoes a series of transformation along our nervous systems.

  • How does these fascinating sensory systems encode information coming from the outside world?
    - We chose the auditory system to look for answers.
  • How does sound influence our perception, drive our behavior, and induce our emotion?
    - We conduct cellular and systems-level study using electrophysiological, behavioral, imaging, genetic, and pharmacological tools.

We're interested in the two driving forces in our brain: excitation and inhibition. Each neuron is a decision maker. It receives both excitatory and inhibitory inputs. Then they make their decisions to either disseminate information or keep quiet.  How can excitatory and inhibitory inputs influence neurons' decisions? The interaction between them might be the key.

Although the balance between excitation and inhibition is critical for our mental health, we start to recognize that neurons may rely on the imbalanced excitation and inhibition to create their diverse functionality: for example, a selectivity to a ringtone volume (Wu et al., Neuron, 2006), a selectivity to a wolf whistle (Kuo and Wu, Neuron, 2012), or even fundamental qualities to detect or distinguish a tone (Lee et al., J. Neurosci., 2019). Although many neurons may seem to have balanced excitation and inhibition, they are actually not perfectly matched  (Wu et al., Neuron, 2008). But practice makes perfect (Sun et al., Nature, 2010). Now you know, the patterns of excitatory and inhibitory inputs could be highly diverse and dynamic. Sometimes, excitation arrives earlier or can be stronger, but other times inhibition arrives earlier or can be stronger.

We are currently exploring how the relative strength and timing of excitatory and inhibitory inputs can be modulated in the auditory midbrain by the cortex (a part of our brain essential for high level function such as attention) and the amygdala (a part of our brain critical for survival such as fear).

The ultimate goal of our lab is to understand the neural principles governing our perception, cognition, and emotion a little bit better...


We thank the following funding agencies and sponsors to our research:

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Applied neuroscience, psychology and economics
The advancement of techniques and instruments allow more accurate and reliable diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental disorders. However, the subjective and intangible nature of perception and cognition undermine the evaluation of safety and efficacy of these interventions and eventual outcomes. From health, pharmaceutical and neural economics point of view, we’re aiming at designing new psychometric health-adjusted quality of life (HAQL) instruments that allow more efficient and effective application of comparative effectiveness analysis on central nervous system (CNS) pharmaceutical products and biomedical devices.