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Ofer Yizhar

Seminar Session III

Yizhar Lab, Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel


Dr. Ofer Yizhar was awarded a BSc in biology with distinction at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2001 and a PhD in neurobiology with distinction at Tel Aviv University in 2008. He did his postdoctoral research at Stanford University in California from 2008 to 2011, and then joined the Weizmann Institute of Science as a Senior Scientist in the Neurobiology Department. His research is focused on the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that contributes to many higher brain functions, including working memory, regulation of emotions and goal-directed behavior. This is also one of the brain regions most strongly impacted by several types of psychiatric diseases. To investigate the functions of prefrontal circuits, his lab develops and applies advanced optogenetic approaches, which allow direct control over the activity of neurons in the living brain. Through the use of light-activated ion channels, pumps and receptors, optogenetics allows temporally and spatially precise control over the activity of defined elements within the neural circuit.


Optogenetic analysis of prefrontal cortical circuits

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is crucial for flexible goal-directed behavior, working memory, decision making and cognitive control. The PFC receives synaptic input from a vast array of cortical and subcortical circuits, and sends output projections to an equally diverse set of brain regions. Understanding the roles played by distinct populations of prefrontal cortical neurons and the functional changes in these neurons in disease states is a major goal of our work. One way by which this goal can be achieved is through targeted recording and manipulation of the activity of distinct circuit elements in behaving animals. Optogenetics allows manipulation of neuronal excitability through the delivery of light-responsive proteins to defined cells in the brain. Microbial opsin-based optogenetic tools allow genetically-encoded, light-based control of neural circuits in vivo. I will describe the approaches used to engineer some well-known classes of channelrhodopsin-based optogenetic tools and recent work utilizing inhibitory optogenetic tools for controlling the activity of long-range axonal projections. I will then describe experiments that utilized these approaches to dissect the contribution of defined prefrontal projection pathways in fear processing, cognitive control and social behavior.