About us

Principal Investigator

S. Lawrence Zipursky, Ph.D.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute/UCLA
5-784 MRL Bldg
Box 951737 / BSRB 310
Phone: 310-825-2834
Fax: 310-206-3800

Lab Administrator

Laura Schreiber
5-784 MRL Bldg

Lab Support

Parmis Mirshahidi
5-629 MRL Bldg

Postdoctoral Fellows

Mark Dombrovskiy, Ph.D.

I am interested in understanding molecular mechanisms and developmental programs that regulate wiring in sensorimotor neural circuits. Using a combination of EM-based connectomics, light level microscopy and single-cell transcriptomics, we investigate the determinants of synaptic specificity underlying visuomotor transformation in the fly brain. To further understand how changes in wiring affect circuit physiology and visually guided behaviors, we collaborate with the Card lab at Columbia University. Outside of the lab, I enjoy traveling, engaging in outdoor activities, and spending time with my family.

Saumya Jain, Ph.D.

Highly dynamic gene expression patterns is a hall mark of developing neurons during circuit formation. How do neurons know which genes to express at what time? I use genomics and genetics approaches in the fruit fly to address this question. When not dissecting flies and gene expression networks, I like to listen to and play Indian classical music.

Piero Sanfilippo, Ph.D.

I am interested in the problem of how the multiple neurotransmitter receptor subtypes found in a single neuron get differentially localized to specific subsets of synapses. To address this problem, I have developed a method to visualize receptors at the single neuron level within circuits of the fly brain. I am currently using these tools to visualize the specificity of neurotransmitter receptor types at synapses formed by distinct synaptic partners with the help of expansion microscopy. In my free time, I enjoy exploring museums, reading about politics, hiking and taking strolls on the beach.

Javier Valdés-Aleman, Ph.D.

I am interested in understanding how the vast number of neurons in the brain manage to connect to the appropriate partners and form functional circuits. As the brain forms, these immature circuits are highly active. I particularly study the role of neural activity during development in the maturation of circuits. I use single cell sequencing and optogenetics to tackle these questions.

Physician Scientists

John Hung Lee, M.D., Ph.D.

I am interested in understanding how astrocytes contribute to brain wiring and experience-dependent synaptic plasticity. My research uses a combination of single cell sequencing, transgenic mice, and single cell labeling approaches to identify genes that control astrocyte function and morphogenesis in the developing mouse brain.  Outside of the lab, I am an attending psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. My clinical interests include treatment of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders.

Sarah Cheng, M.D., Ph.D.

My research interest in the lab is visual system development, in particular how early age experiences shape the way we see. My work in the lab has shown that visual activity alters cell type specification and wiring during the critical period, which in turn affects binocular visual function in mice. One key driver of these changes are cell surface proteins. This work relates to the molecular basis of how amblyopia may develop in children. With a narrow window of opportunity for treatment, amblyopia remains a mystery and we hope these studies help scientists and clinicians formulate the next generation of treatment. Outside of the lab I am an ophthalmology resident at UCLA. For fun, I like to bake and spend time with my cats.

Graduate Students

Alex Kim

I am an MSTP student in the lab interested in studying the subcellular localization of synaptic proteins, particularly during development. Neurons rely on a combination of precise, cell-type specific processes to assemble the brain and establish many classes of synapses. How are the molecular compositions of distinct synapses defined on the protein level? Using novel tools developed in our lab, I am currently investigating the subcellular localization of several types of neurotransmitter receptors and possible mechanisms underlying this process.

Juyoun Yoo

I'm investigating how fly motion detection circuit develops. I use single-cell RNA sequencing to see how neuronal gene expression changes during synaptogenesis. Our team generated a complete developmental transcriptome of the whole optic lobe for the entire pupal stage. I also use genetic tools and confocal microscopy to visualize synapse development. My work has revealed dynamic expression and subcellular localization of neurotransmitter receptor subunits in the direction selective neurons. I'm an avid squash player outside of the lab.

Research Support

Vincent Xu

I am interested in studying the cellular and molecular mechanism of mouse visual cortex development and plasticity. I use spatial transcriptomic technique to dissect molecular and cell type heterogeneity in mouse visual cortex. By using expansion microscopy-assisted FISH we can perform mRNA imaging at nanoscale resolution in whole mount section to allow us correlate function and cell type. In my free time, I am a LGBTQIA+ and minority rights activist and love mountain/resort skiing. I also like baking, watching movies, anything political, and, of course, cat parenting.