Investigating the Visual Cortex

Students in Gina Turrigiano's lab explore how the brain balances excitation and inhibition

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Gina Turrigiano has always been curious about the natural world. "I remember reading a book called Never Cry Wolf when I was 9," she recalls. "I decided that was it. I wanted to be a biologist."

Turrigiano has trained her focus on the synapses between neurons in the visual cortex. With a team that includes undergraduates, her lab investigates homeostatic plasticity—the brain's complex balancing act between the excitation and inhibition of neurons. The Marder Lab at Brandeis, where Turrigiano did her post-doc, as well as the Nelson and Griffith labs also work on homeostatic plasticity. This network of overlapping and specialized investigation allows for the collaborations that make Brandeis a hub for cutting-edge research and outstanding opportunities for undergraduate involvement. "If you're going to be a scientist, you have to see where the thread is leading you," says Turrigiano, "that takes an ability to think critically, to synthesize, to be creative. Brandeis does a phenomenal job of introducing undergraduates to this whole process."

Turrigiano's contributions to understanding how synapses between neurons modify signal strength in response to experience have been recognized with a MacArthur "Genius Grant," an NIH Director's Pioneer Award and the Nakasone Award, among many other honors.