Asymmetric Neural Anatomy Underlies Specialized Oculomotor Behavior

Lecture / Panel
For NYU Community

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Department Seminar Series

Asymmetric Neural Anatomy Underlies Specialized Oculomotor Behavior

David Schoppik, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Neuroscience Institute
NYU Langone Medical Center

Asymmetries and other anisotropies in neural circuits underlie many cognitive, behavioral, and perceptual phenomena, but the complexity of both neural circuits and their consequent behaviors have hindered a mechanistic understanding. I will discuss a striking asymmetry in the projections of conserved brainstem neurons in the larval zebrafish, and determine how a neural circuit with asymmetric anatomy generates biased motor behavior. We identify a set of ~200 vestibular neurons projecting preferentially to motoneurons that rotate the eyes downward. Similar to mammals, larval zebrafish show a stronger downward vestibulo-ocular reflex. Targeted lesions demonstrate the necessity of these neurons for both down and up gaze stabilization and the essential postural task of swim bladder inflation. Concordantly, activation of this anatomically asymmetric population, in part or in whole, rotates the eyes downward. These results indicate that the asymmetric projection of vestibular neurons to motoneurons constitutes the anatomical basis for superior downward gaze stabilization, uncover the neural basis for an ancient behavioral specialization, and define a fundamental circuit motif for motor control.


David Schoppik is currently an Assistant Professor in the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center. He was an HHMI predoctoral fellow and obtained his Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco and was a Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. His laboratory currently works on two parallel research tracks: 1) understanding the neural basis of balance 2) understanding the neural basis of social behaviors.