Professor, Department of Genetics
Siegfried Ullmann Chair in Molecular Genetics
How complex neural circuits form and how they function are major unsolved problems in neurobiology. We use the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to study these questions at the cellular and genetic levels. Connectivity in the C. elegans nervous system is determined by serial section electron microscopy. C. elegans is the only animal species for which the complete nervous system wiring diagram, now available for both male and hermaphrodite adults, is known, providing an unprecedented foundation for C. elegans neuroscience research.
Einstein has recently acquired state-of-the art capability for generating vastly improved electron microscopic datasets of serially sectioned neural tissue. With this facility, new connectomics data from far larger volumes may be obtained with unprecedented speed. Current and future projects include reconstruction of additional connectomes of C. elegans from embryonic and larval stages and from mutants. Projects focused on material from mammalian or other vertebrate brain tissue are contemplated.
The C. elegans nervous system is a complex neural network. To understand how this neural network computes and controls the animal’s behavior, we analyze the patterns of connectivity using computational methods from graph theory. By this approach we are able to identify pathways that subserve particular steps of behavior. Hypotheses regarding neuron function are experimentally tested by cell killing techniques. Reverse engineering efforts also include probing the functions of classical and peptide neurotransmitters, their receptors, and gap junctions by genetic methods.
To understand how the patterns of connectivity are genetically specified, we make use of transgenes that express fluorescent proteins targeted to specific classes of synapses. We use these synapse-specific labels to identify mutants and genes that affect formation of particular cellular synaptic contacts. In these experiments we hope to uncover the still elusive class of proteins that encode the molecular determinants of synaptic specificity.
Lints, R., Jia, L., Kim, K., Li, C., and Emmons, S.W. (2004) Axial patterning of C. elegans male sensilla identities by selector genes. Dev. Biol. 269, 137-151.
Portman, D.S. and Emmons, S.W. (2004) Identification of C. elegans sensory ray genes using whole-genome expression profiling. Dev. Biol. 270, 499-512.
Lipton, J., Kleemann, G., Ghosh, R., Lints, R., and Emmons, S.W. (2004) Mate-searching in Caenorhabditis elegans: A genetic model for sex drive in a simple invertebrate. J. Neurosci. 24, 7427-7434.
Jia, L., and Emmons, S. W. (2006). Genes that control ray sensory neuron axon development in the Caenorhabditis elegans male. Genetics 173, 1241-1258.
Barrios, A., Nurrish, S., and Emmons, S. W. (2008) Sensory regulation of C. elegans male mate-searching behavior. Current Biology 18, 1865-1871.
Kleemann, G., Jia, L., and Emmons, S.W. (2008). Regulation of Caenorhabditis elegans male mate searching behavior by the nuclear receptor DAF-12. Genetics 180, 2111-2122.
Ghosh, R., and Emmons, S. W. (2010) Calcineurin and protein kinase G regulate C. elegans behavioral quiescence during locomotion in liquid. BMC Genetics 11:7.
Jarrell. T. A., Wang, Y., Bloniarz, A. E., Brittin, C. A., Xu, M., Thomson, J. N., Albertson, D. G., Hall, D. H., and Emmons, S. W. (2012) The connectome of a decision-making neural network. Science 337, 437-444. This paper was awarded the 2012-2013 AAAS NEWCOMB CLEVELAND PRIZE for the Most Outstanding Research Article Published in Science.
Emmons, S. W. (2012) The mood of a worm (Perspective). Science 338, 475-476.
Barrios, A., Ghosh, R., Fang, C., Emmons, S.W., and Barr, M.M. PDF-1 neuropeptide signaling modulates a neural circuit for mate-searching behavior in C. elegans. Nature Neuroscience 15, 1675-1682.
Xu, M., Jarrell, T.A., Wang, Y., Cook, S.J., Hall, D.H., and Emmons, S.W. (2013) Computer assisted assembly of connectomes from electron micrographs: application to Caenorhabditis elegans. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54050. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054050
More Information About Dr. Scott Emmons
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Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Jack and Pearl Resnick Campus
1300 Morris Park Avenue
Ullmann Building, Room 703
Bronx, NY 10461
Nature.com interviews Dr. Scott Emmons about his study that determined the complete neural diagram that governs male roundworm mating behavior.
Scientific American’s "Scicurious" blog features research by Dr. Scott Emmons that maps the neural pathways controlling male roundworm mating.